U.S. Inactivity Level Decreased in 2020 But So Did Fitness Participation Level

The U.S. inactivity level decreased by 2.4 percentage points in 2020, but Americans did not stay active at the same frequency and avidity as prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Annual Topline Participation Report from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), which was released Feb. 16.

The report measures the participation rates of 65.3 million Americans, ages 6 and above, tracking 120 sport, fitness and outdoor activities.

The number of totally inactive Americans, which is defined as those who did not participate in any of the 120 tracked activities, dropped by 7 million in 2020 to 24.4 percent of the population. This 2.4 percent decrease from 2019 marks the largest decrease in the number of inactive Americans since SFIA introduced this survey in 2008.

2020 was the second year in a row for a decrease in inactivity levels and the first time that inactivity rates dropped for every income bracket, according to the report.

Despite more people being active, the frequency of participation in high-calorie activities decreased. Instead, more people had casual participation in high-calorie activity. The report blamed the change on temporary closures of health clubs due to COVID-19 and the cancellation of team sports seasons.

Participation levels were at 77.5 percent in January 2020. In March, most gyms were ordered to temporarily close, leading to April’s activity participation level dropping to 75 percent, the lowest for the year.  

However, activity rebounded in May, which recorded the highest activity level for the year at 78.2 percent.

Because of gym closures, many people shifted to activities that could be done at home, such as yoga (17.1 percent participation increase), Pilates (7.2 percent) and kettlebells (5.6 percent). In fact, yoga, Pilates and exercises choreographed to music had the largest participation increases since 2015.

Participation in gym-related activities remained flat at 67 percent, mostly due to the decline in traditionally popular activities at gyms, such as the use of stationary bikes, stair-climbing machines and cardio kickboxing.

Individual sports such as tennis, golf, running, hiking, skateboarding and surfing grew in 2020, perhaps helped by the ability to do these activities outdoors and socially distant. Team sports, however, decreased in participation—although informal team sports such as basketball and ultimate frisbee that can be done in backyards and parks, did increase in participation, according to SFIA.

“2020 brought unprecedented challenges for Americans looking to be physically active, but we find hope in the millions of Americans who changed their habits, venues and activities to exercise and play,” said Tom Cove, SFIA president and CEO. “At the same time, we see so many people yearning for their children and themselves to get back on fields, courts and health clubs. We all must work together to provide safer sports and fitness opportunities as soon as possible.”