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Massage and Wellness Training Helps Work Out Career Kinks

A healthy career path these days is focused on keeping individuals well, through fitness, massage therapy, and nutrition and diet programs.

You're likely to find huge amounts of personal satisfaction from working in a job and industry that promotes an individual's well-being. From efforts to curb childhood obesity to baby boomers wanting to live longer, Americans desire to be stronger and healthier. To accomplish that, it takes workers who can share their expertise and also assistance when individuals face challenges in their quest to be fit and healthy.

As a result, the wellness industry is a fast-growing field. Take a look at the demand for massage therapists alone: About one in five Americans, for example, have had a message at least once, between July 2009 and July 2010, according to the American Massage Therapy Association.

There are both part-time and full-time jobs available in the wellness and massage industry, whether you're seeking to be a massage therapist, nutritionist, fitness instructor, or wellness manager.

Finding a job in the wellness and massage fields could lead you to work in a variety of settings, including fitness centers, hospitals and doctor's offices, spas and hotels, nursing homes, senior centers, sports medicine facilities, and corporate offices. A survey by the American Hospital Association found that 42 percent of hospitals surveyed offer some form of a complementary and alternative medicine service, with about 64 percent of those offering massage for outpatient treatment and 44 percent for inpatient treatment.

The massage and wellness industry also offers the potential to work from home, or to travel to clients' homes. Jobs, such as those for a massage therapist, are even found in more unusual spots, like shopping malls and airports.

Massage and Wellness Degrees

One trend in the fitness field is that more employers are requiring workers to hold a bachelor's degree in areas such as physical education or exercise science. Even if a bachelor's degree is not required, most employers required fitness workers to become certified to teach, by taking classes or attending workshops and seminars from established organizations. The American Council on Exercise offers the most well-known certification program for health and fitness specialists.

Colleges and universities offer associates, bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees for those seeking to be a nutritionist or dietitian, in areas such as foods and nutrition, dietetics, or food service systems management. More than 600 undergraduate and graduate didactic, dietetic technician and supervised practice programs are accredited and approved by the American Dietetic Association's Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education.

Depending on the type of job you're seeing in the wellness industry, the options vary. For example, massage therapists can complete massage therapy programs offered by public or private institutions, which also can prepare you to be licensed in the field (required by most states). The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) estimates that there were 280,000 to 320,000 massage therapists and massage school students in the U.S., in 2008.

There are more than 300 accredited massage schools and programs in the U.S., according to the AMTA. Accredited schools offer massage therapy degree programs, ranging from 12-18 months, and with some programs, students can earn an associate's of applied science in massage therapy. You'll also want to find massage therapy schools that train you on forms of massage you are interested in, since there are more than 80 types of massage. If your focus on wellness is more along the natural healing route, you can find programs that focus on holistic health, homeopathic medicine, and alternative medicine.

New Degree Spotlight

With more workplaces adding wellness programs to deal with rising health care costs, universities are adding to their programs, too. The University of Wisconsin, for example, launched in 2011 an online bachelor of science in health and wellness management targeted to adult students. The degree program prepares students to work as a wellness manager, worksite wellness coordinator, or director of sports, fitness, and wellness in a workplace, all with a focus on managing the programs.

Special Skills in Massage and Wellness

To work in the massage and wellness field, here are five skills that could lead to a fun and rewarding career:

Excellent oral communication skills and empathetic personality.

Willingness to work in a variety of settings.

Ability to motivate others, in a one-on-one or group setting.

Strong fitness level, to handle physical demands of the job.

Knowledge of physiology, kinesiology, and nutrition.

Inside Look at Massage and Wellness Careers

Deanna Waller is majoring in exercise and sports science at the University of Georgia. Her career goal is to be a physicians' assistant for a sports team, recognizing that the health care and wellness fields are fast-growing and have demand for workers.

"The most difficult part so far of this program is the planning and time commitment. The classes are pretty difficult (all science) and the practicum hours are long," she says.

Waller looks forward to working with groups of people and athletes, all part of a team mentality of keeping individuals healthy. "I think I will also enjoy working with athletes and helping them better themselves," she says.

Spotlight on 5 Massage/Wellness Career Paths


What you'll do: Promote healthy eating by planning nutrition programs, creating diets for patients, and even overseeing the preparation and serving of meals.

Average salary: $50,590, as of 2008

Degree needed: Bachelor's degree in majors such as dietetics, or foods and nutrition.

Hiring outlook: Good. 9 percent job growth expected from 2008-2018.

Massage therapist

What you'll do: Help clients get relief or treatment of pain, rehabilitate injuries and reduce stress by manipulating the body's soft-tissue muscles with touch.

Average salary: Average wage is $41.50 an hour (including tip), according to the American Massage Therapy Association.

Degree needed: None, but licensing is required in most states.

Hiring outlook: Strong. 19 percent job growth expected from 2008-2018.

Personal trainers

What you'll do: Help clients set and reach fitness goals, in a one-on-one relationship or small group setting, by assessing their physical fitness, providing exercises, and monitoring their progress.

Average salary: $29,210, as of 2008

Degree needed: Bachelor's (required by some employers) and certification

Hiring outlook: Excellent. 29 percent job growth expected from 2008-2018.

Wellness director

What you'll do: Create and manage a program that focuses on worksite health promotion and wellness.

Average salary: $37,000-$68,000, according to

Degree needed: Bachelor's degree

Hiring outlook: Outstanding. The government projects that health educator jobs will grow by 18 percent, between 2008-2018.

Clinical dietitian

What you'll do: Assess and evaluate patients' nutrition needs and provide nutritionist services to patients, also develop nutrition programs in hospital, nursing home, and other settings

Average salary: $50,590, as of 2008

Degree needed: Bachelor's degree in majors such as dietetics, or foods and nutrition.

Hiring outlook: Good. 9 percent job growth expected from 2008-2018.

Fun Facts About Massage/Wellness Careers

1. Individuals are most likely to enter the massage therapy profession as a second career.

2. Which "Friend" was a massage therapist? Phoebe Buffay, played by Lisa Kudrow.

3. About 45 percent of employers offer a wellness program in the U.S.

4. Oprah's personal trainer, Bob Greene, received his undergraduate degree in physical education at the University of Delaware and his master's degree in exercise physiology from the University of Arizona.

5. Tough trainer Jillian Michaels holds two personal training certificates, from the National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association and the American Fitness Association of America.

Sources: American Massage Therapy Association, MetLife's 9th Annual Employee Benefits Trends Study