Wouldn’t-You-Like-to-Know Facts About Health/Fitness Clubs



1. A WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE. At the present time, an estimated 45 million Americans are members of health/fitness clubs - a number that has more than doubled in the past 2 decades. Globally, the number of health/fitness club members nearly is 120 million. From a global perspective, the U.S. market represents 37.5% of the total global membership base, down from more than 50% less than a decade earlier.

2. NO FREE LUNCH. According to the most recent data available, the average monthly dues paid by a health/fitness club member in the United States approximately is $60, which is comparable to the pricing structure that exists in Europe. Elsewhere, club dues are lower considerably in the emerging markets of China and India, about the same as in Japan. The most expensive market in the world is Russia, where the average monthly dues slightly are more than 60 euro (the equivalent of U.S. $85, with the value added tax included).

3. A SLIGHT MALE INFLUENCE. For the last few years, 51% of U.S. club members have been men, and 49% have been women. In contrast, as recently as 2007, women represented the majority of club members in the U.S. Globally, the sex composition seems to vary by region. In some countries (e.g., U.K., France, Italy, Spain, and Russia), women encompass a larger segment of club membership. In Germany, on the other hand, the sex breakdown is the reverse.

4. TRENDING OLDER. For the past decade, the percentage of club members involving individuals 55 and older has increased slightly (to 23%), whereas the number of individuals between the ages of 18 and 34 has declined slightly. In fact, expectations are that the 55-plus population will occupy an even larger percentage of the "typical" U.S. club’s membership base in the future.

5. THE LEARNING FACTOR. Education level is a strong determinant of membership viability. As such, approximately 59% of club members in the United States, for example, have either a college degree or a graduate-level diploma, whereas another 29% have received some postsecondary education. It also is interesting to note that a direct correlation exists between education and club participation level. As the level of education increases, the level of participation in the programs and activities of the facility also increases.

6. MONEY TALKS. Similar to educational achievement, household (HH) income has a strong influence on club membership viability, particularly in the United States. For example, approximately 36% of all U.S. club members report HH incomes in excess of $100,000 annually, whereas an estimated 27% of members have annual HH incomes of less than $50,000.

7. A CHANGE OF LIFESTYLE. Exercise - some people look at it as a 4-letter word. Others consider it torture. Still others are "true believers" who couldn’t live without it. As such, health/fitness clubs face a major challenge because many of these organizational entities often build their business model on the basis of getting people to accept and adopt exercise. In reality, adopting exercise is like switching to other lifestyle behaviors (e.g., eating healthier, quitting smoking) - it can be very difficult for some people.

8. ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL. No one "perfect" theory exists concerning how and why people adopt exercise. Clubs should not assume that one particular approach will be the magic bullet to success with regard to getting people to exercise in their facilities. As such, clubs need to understand the various theories underlying exercise behavior and identify (and adopt) practical solutions, based on the psychological, emotional, social, and environmental conditions that are affecting their specific set of circumstances.

9. ALL IS NOT ROSY. In general, most consumers tend to have positive perceptions about health/fitness clubs, both from a general perspective and when compared with other businesses in the community. On the other hand, some consumers also have some lingering negative attitudes about clubs - beliefs that closely align with the reasons that individuals often give for resigning their club membership.

10. DEPARTING THE PREMISES. The reasons that individuals report for giving up their membership in a health/fitness club are very similar to those factors that they indicate are important to their achieving a high level of member satisfaction - an environment that promotes social interaction and connection (exercise partners), an environment in which the member feels comfortable (fits in), and an environment that is motivating (satisfactory programs, staff responsiveness, etc.).

James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.

Copyright 2010 by the American College of Sports Medicine.

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