In-person gyms to make a comeback as only 15% of US exercisers feel digital platforms have eliminated the need for gyms

March 17, 2022

The consumer view of the fitness landscape has been permanently altered due to the extended length of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic forced millions of Americans to work out at home, the latest research from Mintel reveals that consumers are missing the personal connection that a gym offers. In fact, just 15% of exercisers feel that digital fitness platforms have eliminated the need for gyms, signifying that in-person fitness will rebound.

After nearly two years of restrictions and periods of isolation, exercisers are yearning for social interaction, giving in-person facilities an elevated appeal. Almost a third (29%) of regular exercisers agree that they like the community aspect of being a member at a gym/fitness facility. This comes as four in five (78%) Americans agree that mental/emotional wellbeing is the number one reason for exercising, slightly ahead of physical wellbeing (76%). 

Rebecca Watters, Associate Director, Household & Health, said:

“The role of gyms in consumers’ lives is so much larger than physical exercise. For many, the pandemic has elevated the importance of gyms because they can assist with mental health, give exercisers time for themselves, stick to a routine and socialize with fellow gym-goers. According to research from Mintel’s Global COVID-19 Tracker, over half of Americans said that the pandemic made them realize they want to take better care of their mental health. It is due to these differentiators that we predict that consumers will add in-person exercise back into their routines along with continued digital home workouts.

Consumers look to exercise for enjoyment

US consumers are increasingly finding more enjoyment in exercising as just two in five (41%) non-exercisers say they do not exercise because they don’t enjoy it, compared to half (49%) who said the same in 2020. Meanwhile, over a third (35%) of consumers say that using exercise as time to themselves motivates them to work out. Over a third (36%) of consumers say they are working out with more regularity compared to before the pandemic, including 29% of those over the age of 55. Overall, weekly exercise is increasing as the number of Americans exercising once a week or more has risen from 67% in 2020 to 72% in 2021.

“Aging consumers have traditionally been ignored by the fitness industry, yet they make up a large portion of the population. COVID-19 highlighted the connection between age and decreased immunity to disease, thus motivating a significant number of mature consumers to renew their focus on physical health. This resurgence in physical activity in older consumers, combined with the sheer volume of this demographic, provides an opportunity for the fitness industry. Brands that cater to older consumers by focusing on resistance, flexibility, and balance training along with low-intensity strength workouts will reap the benefits of gaining a host of new, older clients,” continued Watters.

Exercise as an escape

Parents, especially fathers, are exercising more frequently than non-parents during the COVID-19 pandemic: A third (33%) of dads with children under age 18 in the household exercise daily versus 22% of consumers overall. In fact, parents with kids under age 18 over-index for using exercise as a way to boost their moods (40% vs. 34% of consumers overall) and take time for themselves (39% vs. 35% of consumers overall).

“The COVID-19 pandemic forced many to stay home, adapt and change their routines – especially when it comes to exercising. While it may seem counterintuitive that parents with young kids are exercising more, the increased responsibilities of parents two years into the pandemic, including child care and at-home schooling, have taken their toll. Workouts have become one of a few activities available to Americans during months of quarantining and many parents turned to fitness as a way to escape their hectic schedules and blow off steam.

“As brands learn to embrace a more well-rounded picture of fitness, they also have a responsibility to make their offerings more inclusive to consumers of all sizes, races, and abilities. Fitness platforms must employ instructors that more accurately reflect the general population. Gyms will also need to make their spaces more welcoming to all consumers to align with their wishes and values; such a move could help in-person facilities get back to their pre-pandemic membership numbers,” concluded Watters. 

Additional research on US exercise consumer trends is available upon request from the Mintel Press Office.

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