I was surfing around on the Internet the other day when a jarring Club Industry headline caught my attention: “American Physical Inactivity Reaches Six-Year High, Club Memberships Increase.” It doesn’t seem to make any sense, but according to a recent report from the Physical Activity Council (PAC), a group made up of IHRSA and five other sports and manufacturer associations, it is the case that 82.7 million Americans (28.3 percent) were physically inactive in 2014, an increase of 0.7 percent from 2013. It is also the case that health club memberships have grown by 18.6 percent since 2008, with the total number of health club visits in 2014 surpassing five billion for the second year in a row. Health club members checked in an average of 103 times in 2014, an all-time high.
What does it all mean? The data, based on nearly 11,000 online interviews carried out with a nationwide sample of individuals and households, suggest that the country’s fitness-related crises — obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and the like — are here to stay, and perhaps only getting worse. But at the same time, more and more people are joining health clubs and they’re visiting their clubs more often.
It can be hard, with statistics, to make meaningful interpretations and arrive at some kind of truth. But it seems safe to say, at the very least, that the news from the Physical Activity Council is both good and bad. As Tom Cove, PAC chairman and president and CEO of the Sports and Fitness Industry Association put it, “While we can look at [the physical inactivity] number in a negative light, I would like to use it as a wakeup call to not only our industry but the rest of society. It’s time we put our time and resources into industry initiatives and national campaigns to increase physical activity.”
In other words, the number may be alarming, but we can use it to start instigating change. And there’s no group better positioned to do so than the fitness industry — especially given that other statistic, the steadily growing popularity of fitness centres and health clubs. Joe Moore, IHRSA President and CEO, explained it this way: “These numbers demonstrate the important role health clubs play in helping more and more Americans improve their overall health and wellbeing.”
Thus, while the two statistical figures seem contradictory, they’re really sending the same message: Venues that enable and promote fitness and opportunities for exercise are a vital part of the equation when it comes to keeping the country healthy, and we, as an industry, need to step up our efforts to reverse the trend toward greater physical inactivity.
In practical terms, maybe this means it’s time for your club to become more involved in your community and to actively seek out members of the community who lack physical activity. Programs that create incentive for such people to try out your facility and that then support their efforts to sustain a more active lifestyle could work wonders—and could lead to benefits for both them and your club. We spend so much time focusing on physical activity, but maybe what we need to do now is shift our attention to physical inactivity.