Mental Health Is Top Reason Americans Exercise, Per Mintel Report

Seventy-eight percent of exercisers said that mental/emotional well-being was the number one reason for exercising while 76 percent said that physical well-being was the number one reason, according to research company Mintel.

The survey of U.S. consumers found that regular exercisers seemed to want to exercise at their gym rather than at home. Just 15 percent said that digital fitness platforms have eliminated the need for gyms, and 29 percent said they like the community aspect of being a member at a health club.

“The role of gyms in consumers’ lives is so much larger than physical exercise,” said Rebecca Watters, associate director, household & health for Mintel. “For many, the pandemic has elevated the importance of gyms because they can assist with mental health, give exercisers time for themselves, stick to a routine and socialize with fellow gym-goers. According to research from Mintel’s Global COVID-19 Tracker, over half of Americans said that the pandemic made them realize they want to take better care of their mental health. It is due to these differentiators that we predict that consumers will add in-person exercise back into their routines along with continued digital home workouts.”

Exercise habits have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey found. Thirty-six percent of consumers said they are working out with more regularity compared to before the pandemic, including 29 percent of those over the age of 55. Overall, weekly exercise increased as the number of Americans exercising once per week or more rose from 67 percent in 2020 to 72 percent in 2021.

“Aging consumers have traditionally been ignored by the fitness industry, yet they make up a large portion of the population,” Walters said. “COVID-19 highlighted the connection between age and decreased immunity to disease, thus motivating a significant number of mature consumers to renew their focus on physical health. This resurgence in physical activity in older consumers, combined with the sheer volume of this demographic, provides an opportunity for the fitness industry. Brands that cater to older consumers by focusing on resistance, flexibility, and balance training along with low-intensity strength workouts will reap the benefits of gaining a host of new, older clients.”

Lack of enjoyment was cited less today than prior to the pandemic as a reason for not exercising with just 41 percent of non-exercisers offering that as a reason for not working out compared to 49 percent who gave that answer in 2020, according to Mintel.

Meanwhile, 35 percent of consumers said that using exercise as time to themselves motivated them to work out.

Parents, especially fathers, exercised more frequently than non-parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the survey. Thirty-three percent of dads with children under age 18 in the household exercise daily compared to 22 percent of consumers overall. In fact, parents with kids under age 18 over-index for using exercise as a way to boost their moods (40 percent vs. 34 percent of consumers overall) and take time for themselves (39 percent vs. 35 percent of consumers overall).

“The COVID-19 pandemic forced many to stay home, adapt and change their routines — especially when it comes to exercising,” Walters said. “While it may seem counterintuitive that parents with young kids are exercising more, the increased responsibilities of parents two years into the pandemic, including child care and at-home schooling, have taken their toll. Workouts have become one of a few activities available to Americans during months of quarantining, and many parents turned to fitness as a way to escape their hectic schedules and blow off steam.”

Walters added that as brands learn to embrace a more well-rounded picture of fitness, they also have a responsibility to make their offerings more inclusive to consumers of all sizes, races, and abilities.

“Fitness platforms must employ instructors that more accurately reflect the general population,” she said. “Gyms will also need to make their spaces more welcoming to all consumers to align with their wishes and values. Such a move could help in-person facilities get back to their pre-pandemic membership numbers.”