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Fitness: the world’s biggest sport

Fitness: the world’s biggest sport
March 16, 2014

An international study has revealed that fitness is now the world's biggest sport, and still has significant growth potential.

The Nielsen: Les Mills Global Consumer Fitness Survey, undertaken by global market researcher Nielsen, surveyed 4,600 people across 13 countries and showed that 27% of the total adult population attends a gym, fitness centre or health club and that 61% of regular exercisers are currently doing gym-type activities.

Commenting on the findings, Nielsen Associate Director Kris Mayo states "this ranks higher than any other fitness activity including walking, team sports, cycling, running or swimming."

Mayo also sees a big opportunity for the fitness industry to grow the number of people doing gym-type activities as the study also revealed that 69% of people who do not currently participate in such pursuits say they would consider doing so.

While these findings shine an optimistic light on the current health of the fitness industry, they show different findings to the 2013 International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) Health Club Consumer Report. The IHRSA report indicated a levelling off within fitness as the industry transitions from a growth to a mature phase

Les Mills International Chief Executive Phillip Mills suggests why the findings from the two reports do not appear to be aligned.

Mills explains "when you analyse the methodology and markets covered, the IHRSA report covers the United States market and currently doesn't incorporate non-members such as casual users, who can account for a high percentage of users of not-for-profit facilities, or the impact created by new formats such as CrossFit and cycling only studios.

"The Nielsen report questioned adults over 18 who currently exercise, or have an interest in exercising, in the major global fitness markets including the United States, ten European countries, Brazil and Australia."

By marrying the findings from the two reports, Mills says interesting conclusions can be drawn.

He adds "the revelation that gym-type activities are more popular than any other fitness activity presents a huge opportunity to the industry. Not all of these regular exercisers are gym members but it is up to us to convert them as this study tells us they are already doing the type of activities clubs can offer."

However, with the IHRSA report highlighting that growth is stagnating in the health club industry, this may not be an easy task.

Commenting on this challenge, Mills concludes "I am in agreement with Stephen Tharrett of Club Intel who co-authored the report - that the way for clubs to be successful is to innovate.

"We in the traditional club industry have allowed our brand to age (but), as predicted in the 2008 Nielsen/Les Mills 'Future of Fitness' whitepaper, 'millennials' - under 30s - now tend to look at traditional health clubs as something for their parents' generation. Our product and our packaging do not talk to this major market. I think addressing this is also the key to attracting people already doing gym-type activities into clubs, which will help re-stimulate industry growth."

The 2013 Nielsen: Les Mills Global Consumer Fitness Survey revealed:

• 61% of regular exercisers are currently doing gym-type activities.
• Of those that aren't doing gym-type activities 69% say they would consider doing so.
• Younger consumers, aged 18-29 years old, are more likely to be doing gym-type activities. 
• 76% of this age group are doing gym-type activities, making Millennials 15% more likely to be engaging in fitness as a sport than the total adult population.
• Gym-type activities include fitness classes to music, indoor group training, yoga, Pilates, dance, working out with a personal trainer, free weights, weight machines, cardio machines and boxing.
• 39% of people exercise regularly, 39% are not currently exercising to keep fit and healthy or to create or maintain good physical appearance but want to and 22% have no interest in exercising whatsoever.
• Of the regular exercisers and people who are not currently exercising to keep fit and healthy but want to, 31% are lapsed club users.
• 27% of the total adult population attend a gym, fitness centre or health club. 

For more information, go to

Related Articles

5th February 2014 - New co-branded Reebok/Les Mills fitness wear hits the gym floor

14th January 2014 - Fitness & Health Expo organisers reveal Australian health habits

15th January 2010 - Les Mills Releases ‘Future of Fitness’ Research

18th May 2009 - Gym membership is a casual affair

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