18 vs 82: The Fitness Statistic I Couldn’t Believe

This year marks my 15th year of working in the fitness industry where I’ve built a community of my closest friends, met my girlfriend, developed a solid network of colleagues and in a strange way, pride myself in having a deep understanding of this field. However, I made a shocking discovery at the beginning of this year which changed the way I saw fitness, as an industry and how it fits with the rest of the population.

You see, I come from a warped reality where everyone I know does some form of fitness. I’ve grown up in the fitness industry, my girlfriend was from the fitness industry, my closest friends and inside circle all work within the fitness industry. My warped reality had me thinking that it is no longer like the early 2000’s, where drinking a protein shake was considered strange. I mean, nowadays there’s a 24/7 gym on every corner, everyone knows about macros and nutrition, it’s 2018 and everyone has a gym membership… or so I thought…

Earlier in the year, when consulting for a medical company, I was asked to view an ECG stress test in motion. This test measures the heart’s ability to respond to external stress (eg. exercise) in a controlled environment (e.g increasing pace on a treadmill monitored by a doctor). On the treadmill was a middle aged man who looked a little worn from life due to the demands of intense labour work. He had very little muscle definition and a well-deserved beer belly, which led me to assume he was an alcohol drinker, possibly a smoker with a very low level of fitness. Mid way through the stress test, the doctor leaned over and whispered, “in our profession, this patient is considered a healthy male adult because he can walk and is not morbidly obese!”

Upon hearing this, a look of shock and confusion swept across my face. Having been surrounded by fitness people my entire adult life, it was at this very moment I realised that the lens I saw our population through was somewhat skewed. For some reason, I couldn’t shake off what I had learned that day and continued to ponder what was considered ‘a healthy normal adult’… surely we could do better?

From there, I turned to statistics in attempt to understand what is ‘normal’, which led me to the discovery of the Fitness Industry Consumer Report based on data sources from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Here’s the biggest insight I found: Less than 18% of the Australian population have a gym membership or perform regular, organised exercise… this means that over 82% of the adult population do not perform physical activity. With a gym on every corner and my whole world being surrounded by fitness, how could this be?

For some, this may not seem like a big deal, but for me, as someone who has grown up around fitness, this came as a massive shock. Some may say that the population will get healthier and fitter with education and innovation over time, but the reality is the overall rates of participation in fitness/gym activities among Australians over the last few years have only held steady, rather than grown. This study also doesn’t take into account the decline in participation of those between the ages of 15-17, which in the coming years will drop the overall rate of participation even lower… unless we actively do something about it.

Where to from here? Why should we care? Why should we take action?

First things first… fitness works… period!!! No matter if you’re an advocate for CrossFit, Pilates, yoga, bodybuilding, pole fitness, dance fitness, calisthenics, boxing, MMA, barre or whatever new ninja workout is available on the market… fitness is a product that is 100% guaranteed to improve the quality of your life!!!

In fact, here are the top 10 ways fitness can help improve your life published by Health Line https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-benefits-of-exercise.

  1.     It Can Make You Feel Happier.
  2.     It Can Help With Weight Loss.
  3.     It Is Good for Your Muscles and Bones.
  4.     It Can Increase Your Energy Levels.
  5.     It Can Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Disease.
  6.     It Can Help Skin Health.
  7.     It Can Help Your Brain Health and Memory.
  8.     It Can Help With Relaxation and Sleep Quality.
  9.     It Can Reduce Pain.
  10.  It Can Promote a Better Sex Life.

The biggest takeaway from this list is that fitness makes you happier. Not long after making the discovery about the 18% vs 82%, I conducted a survey on the Perth Fitfam audience where one of the questions was simply, “why do you do fitness?” An astounding 70%  clearly listed that ‘mental health’ was the main driver for a regular fitness program.

So why (as a fitness industry) are we continuing to market abs, fat loss hacks and ripped bodies to the 82%, when the vast majority or consumers exercise with the intention to feel better and be happier. In fact, up until recently, I’ve never actually seen a marketing campaign from a fitness company to promote the mental benefits of fitness apart from the cliché “look good feel good”… but that rant is for another post.

On top of the statistics of the 18% vs 82%, another shocking reality is that, in a ‘big box’ or standard 24/7 gym, the average ‘active member’ rate sits somewhere around 33%. This means that somewhere around 67% of members signed up to the gym are not actually using their membership on a regular basis… a cohort of members known as ‘sleepers’. In contrast, this statistic for boutique studios or community based group fitness facilities increases to over 90% of active members (with some gyms stating an active member rate of 95%). This is also a topic I’d like to dive into about successful, sustainable business modelling and what we can do to improve community engagement… but I’ll save that for another post too.

As you can see, since the discovery of this social issue, it has consumed my thoughts and forces me to ask the question, ‘how can we change collectively as an industry and do better?’. It has also given Perth Fitfam a clear vision to address the issue, and a mission to help 200,000 Western Australians discover a form of fitness which inspires them to take action and begin a fit and healthy lifestyle by 2021.

After bringing this statistic to light recently on a Perth Fitfam Instagram story, I wasn’t surprised to hear a plethora of responses from the like-minded fitness community who much like myself, were shocked at this vast gap of reach within our efforts as an industry to impact change and help improve the quality of people’s lives.

So how do we work as an industry to make massive social change? This is something Perth Fitfam will strive for daily to develop and find answers. I’m interested to know your thoughts below.

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