The Fitness Industry Beyond COVID & Economic Uncertainty

The Fitness Industry Beyond COVID & Economic Uncertainty
By Melissa Rodriguez

By Melissa Rodriguez

Market Research Professional | Fitness & Strength Coach

Omicron, supply chain issues, inflation, and other economic challenges.


Like most businesses (and consumers), the fitness industry has been through a lot so far this year. 


Despite the pandemic and economy, the future looks promising for the fitness industry. Independent research* points to a bright future for the industry.


Here are a few of my favorite studies since mid-2021.


IPSOS: 58% of global consumers would like to increase exercise and sport participation


IPSOS, one of the largest market and public opinion research firms, conducts research on exercise and sports around the world. 


In a survey of 29 territories, IPSOS found that more than half of consumers would like to engage in more physical activity. 


What stands in the way? 


The most common barrier is time as 37% of global consumers selected this reason, followed by lack of money (18%). 


The top five countries with residents most likely to say they would like to engage in more physical activity are in Latin America and the Middle East:


  • Peru: 81%
  • Chile: 79%
  • Colombia: 78%
  • Saudi Arabia: 75%
  • Turkey: 72%


For industry experts, it’s no surprise these five countries also happen to have the lowest fitness center participation rates. From the 2020 IHRSA Global Report and Ken Research: 


  • Peru: 1.8%
  • Chile: 2.7%
  • Colombia: 2.1%
  • Saudi Arabia: 3.7% 
  • Turkey: 0.7% (Ken Research


In comparison, only 35% of Americans and 37% of Australians say they would like to exercise more. The US and Australia have two of the highest pre-covid fitness club participation rates in the world at 21.8% and 15.3%.


Desire to play in untapped markets presents opportunities for fitness business operators. And growth potential for our industry. 


More IPSOS: Fitness is the most popular sport in the world
More IPSOS: Fitness is the most popular sport in the world

The IPSOS study also found that fitness is the number one sport worldwide. One in five respondents indicated engaging in fitness during a typical week. 


The top five sports and activities across the 29 markets:


  • Fitness (20% of respondents)
  • Running (19%)
  • Cycling (13%)
  • Soccer (10%)
  • Swimming (9%)


Fitness is the go-to activity for consumers across the globe. This underscores the important role fitness pros and businesses play in promoting healthy and active lives. 


Mintel: Mental Health is the #1 reason why people exercise 


Earlier this year, Mintel released a report showing confirming what Mindbody’s Wellness Index found lat least year. Mental wellbeing is the number one reason why Americans exercise. 


According to Mintel, 78% of Americans cite mental/emotional wellbeing as the number one reason why they exercise.

Mintel: Mental Health is the #1 reason why people exercise

Other findings bode well for the fitness industry:


  • The percent of Americans exercising weekly rose from 67% in 2020 to 72% in 2021,
  • More than one-third (36%) of consumers say they are exercising more regularly since the pandemic started, and 
  • Roughly 36% said viewing exercise as time for themselves motivated them to work out. 


As many industry insiders already know, the pandemic reinforced awareness for mental wellness. Mintel’s report underscores this understanding.


So you could say that a regular fitness routine is a pill for both mental and physical health. Fitness business operators are well-positioned to serve that daily dose. 


NPD: Increased focus on health is boosting apparel, sporting goods, and footwear sales


Data from one of the largest syndicated research firms shows how fitness impacts adjacent industries. 


According to the NPD Group, increasing health awareness is lifting active apparel and equipment sales. Performance apparel and footwear remain elevated relative to pre-pandemic levels. Outdoor equipment sales also exceed 2019 levels. 

NPD: Increased focus on health is boosting apparel, sporting goods, and footwear sales`

Consider these YO3Y (January – April 2022 vs January – April 2019) stats:


  • Activewear sales improved by 39%,
  • Running and hiking footwear sales are up by 20%,
  • Sales for walking shoes have grown by 30%, and
  • Outdoor equipment sales increased by 25%.


Team sports equipment, camping accessories, and high-end bikes, in particular, drove outdoor equipment sales. This data shows that healthy habits formed during the pandemic have not only remained, but expanded. 


Health, fitness, and sports participation are in high demand. Fitness goods and services will benefit from this demand in the long run. 

So what do a global research firm, a market intel provider, a syndicated data company all have in common? 


They all suggest a promising outlook for the health and fitness industry, with upside for growth:

  • Worldwide, consumers want to engage in physical activity; 
  • Mental well-being has emerged as a primary reason for working out; and
  • Health and fitness awareness is lifting other industries. 


*These are research and consulting firms that may not have a direct stake in the industry like association groups and fitness & sport businesses. 

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