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Gym Data: Are People Returning to Gyms?

Given the nicer weather outside during the late spring and early summer months, June is typically slower for indoor fitness facilities and gyms.

However, 2021 was a unique year in that many gym-goers finally had the opportunity to return to indoor fitness if they wished to during the spring, once COVID19 restrictions were lifted following more than a year of social distancing and mask mandates.

So are more people — especially those who are vaccinated — choosing to workout in gyms again this summer, or is 2021 following a typical fitness pattern in terms of taking a dip in attendance through the summer?

Let's look closer below at some statistics regarding gym and fitness activity this past year, plus what experts tell us about the safety of working out indoors now that the pandemic is foreseeably coming to an end.

What The Data Tells Us About 2021 Gym/Fitness Activity

Gyms have been one of the hardest-hit industries throughout the pandemic. Many facilities were forced to close for at least part of 2020 before reopening with restrictions.

Concerns over close proximities, difficulty distancing, shared equipment, and heavy breathing in confined spaces caused many people to work out at home instead of at fitness facilities throughout much of 2020 and early 2021.

The Los Angeles Times reported that many “membership levels are less than half of what they were in March 2020, and large percentages of memberships are still on freeze and not paying monthly dues…About 17% of all U.S. gyms closed permanently during the pandemic."

According to a report by the New York Times, as of April 2021, gyms and fitness programs have reopened in every state in the U.S, allowing an estimated 73 million eager gym members to return to indoor exercise.

Based on available data that has tracked gym visits over the past year, it seems that a high percentage of people base their decision on whether or not to engage in indoor fitness on how high COVID-19 cases are at the moment. For example, Advanta's biggest fitness program, HorizonbFit, showed that gym visits decreased significantly from March of 2020 to April 2020 as COVID-19 cases climbed rapidly. Visits were down a whopping 90% from before the pandemic, falling from about 160,000 visits per month to just 8,000.

Then as infection rates fell in many parts of the country from August to September of 2020 (before a "second wave" hit), visits shot back up again to between 45,000 and 55,000 monthly, which is nearly 5X higher than they were during the "first wave" of the pandemic. The same pattern repeated from January of 2021 to June of 2021: Visits were low while cases were high, but then climbed considerably as vaccinations increased and cases began dropping.

Another trend we saw during 2020/2021 was many more people working out at home, or outdoors when the weather permitted.

Advanta's Smartwalking program, which includes members who walk at least 10,000 steps per day, saw enrollment peak during the warmer months of the year, including in the spring and summer months. Advanta's ActiveFit@Home program, an at-home workout program, saw a considerable boost in enrollment throughout 2020 and 2021, likely in part because gym visits were down in general compared to previous years.

Should You Return To The Gym?

Health experts have had one concern during the pandemic: weighing the pros and cons of closing gyms considering the pandemic’s effect on mental health.

Exercise is known to be a powerful way to deal with stress, not to mention that it supports immune function and weight management in many other ways — which is why many experts now encourage, or at least support, people who are vaccinated to resume their regular gym workouts.

As one infectious disease specialist told The Washington Post, “We’re doing things that are higher risk now because we can, and I think that it’s important to realize that our mental health is equally as important as our physical health, and resuming some of these normal activities is a part of that."

If you've been vaccinated but are still concerned about working out indoors, there are some steps you can take to minimize the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 or other illnesses when you spend time in enclosed or crowded spaces.

Look for fitness spaces that are taking certain precautions recommended by the CDC, such as having increased ventilation. Speak to your local gyms about their policies regarding physical distancing, increasing cleaning and disinfecting, promoting overall hygiene, and improving ventilation and air filtration. And of course, wearing a mask helps protect you and others.

Working out at slower hours of the day, and avoiding peak times such as before or after typical work hours, is another way to reduce your risk. Working out close to open windows and maintaining about 10 feet from other exercisers is another protective strategy.

You may also want to consider exercising by yourself if you're high-risk, as opposed to attending crowded classes in low-ventilation rooms. If you do attend classes, keep in mind that studies show respiration (and virus spread) naturally rises more during strenuous workouts, such as spin or dance classes, than in lighter workouts, such as yoga or Pilates. Whatever you choose, make sure you feel safe.


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