Why Gyms Matter:  Science, Data and Feeling 

Why Gyms Matter: Science, Data and Feeling
By Erin Phelan

By Erin Phelan

Fitness Industry Council of Canada

As thousands of members come back to the gym, or join for the first time this January, the evidence on how gyms contribute to improving physical, mental and social health outcomes and can help reverse the damage of a sedentary lifestyle is clear.


But, you can exercise anywhere, right?  Why does the gym matter?


According to the 2020 IHRSA Global Report, prior to the pandemic 184 million people belonged to more than 210,000 gyms worldwide. This week, the UK national organization ukactive released a survey that showed that 55% of gym-goers feel their membership is important to helping them manage a short or long-term health condition, and three-quarters say that keeping fit boosts their mental health.


This week, as Participaction launched their “Fall in with an Active Crowd” campaign, Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC), the voice of the Canadian fitness industry, explores why gyms matter: for motivation, to improve physical and mental health, and to boost the Canadian economy.



For those who don’t have an exercise habit, it can be hard to go it alone. “Just step inside a gym, and watch your motivation rise,” says Gabriel Hardy, Executive Director of FIC. “In the same way we have shifted our work culture to a hybrid-model, it is time to come back to ‘the office’ of fitness – and the office is the gym!”


In fact, research shows that simply having a gym membership can improve motivation and adherence to an exercise regime.  “Step into a gym and your motivation immediately rises,” says Hardy. “Everything you need is there – from equipment to trainers, to the community of people who will support you and cheer you on! One of the biggest challenges for a newcomer is motivation and accountability, and walking through the doors of a gym increases both.”



From weight management to stress management, one of the biggest reasons that the gym matters is that gyms are places where people come to work on their physical and mental health. “A gym is equipped with zones – for cardiovascular exercise, strength training with machines, weights, and recovery. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – people who exercise regularly have a lower risk of obesity, and lesser health problems. “We know that heart disease is the number one killer in Canada and regular cardio workouts strengthen the heart,” says Hardy. “With every guideline promoting 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise, it is essential for every Canadian to improve cardiovascular health.”


And the true hero of 2024 is strength training. “Gyms are investing heavily in more strength training equipment and it is one of the best reasons the gym matters,” says Hardy. “Building muscle mass and bone density contributes to better body composition, posture, balance and joint health. This is imperative as we age – and we know that active aging is the number one trend in Canada.”



Gyms are communities of support, motivation and accountability. “You join a gym and it becomes your second family,” says Hardy. “Once you become a regular member, people notice when you aren’t there! The positive outcomes of a gym membership – reduced social isolation, and a sense of belonging – improve our mental health.


And research from the British Medical Journal last year investigated 41 studies that looked at exercise; planned, structured and purposeful physical activity was as effective if not more effective than medication for reducing depressive symptoms.


Exercise has been shown to reduce stress by stimulating the release of endorphins, the brain’s natural mood elevators. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that individuals who regularly engage in physical activity report lower levels of stress and anxiety.


Research has also shown that physical activity promotes the growth of new neurons and increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which improves cognitive function, learning, memory and attention span.


Findings from a 2021 report from Deloitte and Touche, released by IHRSA, found that the fitness industry in Canada contributed $2.28-billion directory to the Canadian economy, and an additional $1.88-billion indirectly – this was measured through taxes, employment and additional factors such as equipment and electricity utilization. Furthermore, the fitness industry supports 83,000 direct jobs and an additional 22,000 jobs indirectly.


But the bottom line comes from the economic benefit of successfully helping an inactive Canadian become active: Deloitte and Touche found that investing $2000 to help a Canadian become active provided a positive Return on Investment to the economy and society in less than a year.

Gyms matter.


Physical activity and regular exercise is no longer about simply looking good. “We are focused on the long game, and the long game is longevity,” says Hardy. “Joining a gym will impact your life in more ways than one.”

Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC) is the not-for profit trade association that represents the voice of fitness facility operators across Canada. Representing more than 6,000 facilities with more than six-million members nationwide, FIC pursues a legislative agenda in the hope of bettering the fitness industry for both consumers and operators. FIC aims to work with both industry and government to improve the health and physical activity levels of Canadians.

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