Guest Column - March 2002
Find a printable version here

A New Motivation for Joining a Gym Has Emerged

By Margo Faiman, IHRSA

More people join a health club in January than in any other month of the year, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). So far, 2002 appears little different, except that this year, health-club professionals have noticed a shift in their new members' motivations to join and start exercising.

Dubbed by the club industry as the "Total Health" trend, this new motivation for joining a fitness center has evolved from the pursuit of some ideal body image to a focus on achieving total health-health of the mind and body-as a part of leading an overall more balanced life. Findings from "Fitness American Style," a national consumer study commissioned by IHRSA and conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide, determined that major segments of the American population have adopted a more holistic definition of good health and physical fitness.

"The world shifted after the tragic events of September 11, and people have come to understand that life is precious and should not be taken for granted," says John McCarthy, executive director of IHRSA. "Fitness-of the body and mind-is essential to achieving a happier and healthier life, and now, more than ever, people recognize that a health club can help you to that goal."

Evidence of the Total Health trend can be found with the rise in American's interest in yoga-type classes in the last year. In April 2001, Time magazine ran a cover story titled "Yoga as

Therapy," reporting, "millions of Americans are discovering this ancient exercise" and "it's the exercise cum meditation for the new millennium, one that doesn't so much pump you up as bliss you out." Additionally, more IHRSA member clubs report offering yoga classes than just five years ago nearly 70 percent of clubs in 2001, compared with only 40 percent in 1996.

"New members are looking for more this year," says Geoff Dyer, IHRSA's president and president of Lifestyle Family Fitness Centers in St. Petersburg, Fla. "As our fitness professionals work with members to develop appropriate exercise programs, many new members not only express the usual interest in shedding some unnecessary pounds, but they also identify reducing stress, increasing their energy level, and a desire to just 'feel better' as goals for this year."

Moreover, Fitness American Style showed that people are making a commitment to discovering the full benefits of exercise. At least one in five survey participants say they have become, over the past few years, more interested in the following:

  • Making a personal commitment to an exercise/fitness program (27 percent)
  • Spending time on exercise/fitness (27 percent)
  • Maintaining a youthful approach to life (26 percent)
  • Relaxation exercises (23 percent)
  • Managing stress through exercise (21 percent)

Looking at club members specifically, the survey found that these people tend to be more active, social and more in control of their lives than nonmembers. In fact, at a health club, you are likely to meet people who have done the following in the past year:

  • Gone out with friends (87 percent vs. 71 percent of nonmembers)
  • Spent time on hobbies (84 percent vs. 71 percent)
  • Used a computer/go online (85 percent vs. 55 percent)
  • Gone to movies (79 percent vs. 47 percent)
  • Worked overtime (61 percent vs. 49 percent)

"Health club members seem to grab a hold of life and live it to the full extent," McCarthy says. "In these early years of the 21st century, we can see that the motivation in joining a health club has made this migration from people wanting to better their external body image to people interested in their overall health and well-being. This Total Health trend is a fantastic shift "

Finally, Fitness American Style also discovered that health-club members tend to be leaders in their community. They are nearly twice as likely to be Roper Influentials, a category of American population leaders that are active participants in their community (hold an office, are active in local government, more inclined to be involved in town or school affairs, and so on).

The study was based upon an eight-page mail panel survey conducted among a nationally representative sample of 1,200 Americans 18 and older. The margin for error for the total sample is 4 percentage points.

Margo Faiman is a public relations manager for IHRSA, a non-profit association dedicated to the growth, protection and promotion of the health club industry and represents more than 6,500 clubs worldwide.