A Fitter Future With IHRSA

This month, we'd like to spotlight an industry that was extremely hard-hit by the global pandemic: fitness. We asked Helen Durkin, IHRSA's executive vice president of public policy to tell us more about the organization's current initiatives and how it's been working to address the impact of COVID-91 on health clubs. Learn more about IHRSA at www.ihrsa.org.

RM: What's the most important current initiative for IHRSA?

Durkin: As the global health and fitness association, IHRSA launched quite a few strategic initiatives over the past year. These initiatives include a focus on industry and public health research, extensive content to assist clubs in navigating the once-in-a-lifetime crisis, the launch of the Global Health & Fitness Alliance, and the creations of a Medical, Science and Health Advisory Council and an Industry Partners Advisory Council. IHRSA also prioritized working with state alliances and global federations partners to reopen closed clubs and launch the Active and Safe Commitment.

Moreover, IHRSA has relentlessly lobbied for relief for the U.S. fitness industry. Specifically, IHRSA and our U.S. advocacy arm, the NHFA (National Health & Fitness Alliance), are working with individuals, business owners and community partners nationwide to pass the GYMS (Gym Mitigation and Survival) Act (H.R. 890/S. 1613). The GYMS Act would provide grants to fitness facilities struggling to recover from pandemic-related closures and restrictions.

RM: What else has IHRSA been doing to address the impact of COVID-19 on health clubs?

Durkin: Health and fitness clubs, gyms and studios were some of the first businesses mandated to close in March 2020 and among the last allowed to reopen, and are still struggling to get through the pandemic. IHRSA has focused on obtaining relief and recovery for the industry.

Gaining government relief has been vital. Fitness facilities desperately need financial assistance after months of managing strict capacity restrictions—as low as 10% in some regions—and making costly improvements to adhere to cleaning and social distancing requirements. Passing the GYMS Act is crucial. The grants provided through the GYMS Act would cover: payroll costs; rent or mortgage payments; utilities; interest on debt accrued before Feb. 15, 2020, taxes; payments required for insurance policy costs required under any state, local or federal law or guideline related to social distancing; and more.

IHRSA is also working to help the industry and all Americans recover their health through the passage of PHIT—the Personal Health Investment Today Act. If passed, PHIT will allow Americans to use pre-tax dollars—flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs)—to pay for health club memberships, fitness equipment, exercise videos and youth sports leagues.

RM: Anything else you'd like our readers to know?

Durkin: You can take action right from your computer to help get the industry the relief needed to stay in business. To date, over 34,000 letters and emails nationwide have been sent to Congress through the NHFA's one-click campaign. The GYMS Act has tallied 138 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives and eight co-sponsors in the Senate version of the bill. Join the efforts to get more sponsors and bring the industry's plight to the attention of congressional leadership.

According to a January survey, 50% of health clubs don't expect to survive 2021 without financial assistance because of the pandemic. Health clubs, gyms and studios are critical to maintaining a healthy lifestyle—data from the Physical Activity Council notes that while their fitness clubs were closed during the pandemic, 57% of U.S. gym members were less active.

Furthermore, over the past year, there's been a collective understanding of the link between mental health and exercise. The COVID Era Fitness Consumer found that 63% of gym users were more stressed in August 2020 than at the beginning of the year, and three out of four felt anxious about their health. Research shows that people who are more physically active: are happier; experience greater levels of excitement and enthusiasm; are more satisfied with life; and have higher self-esteem. RM