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  • ukactive launches Consumer Engagement report, based on quarterly polling, uncovering motivations and barriers for people using gyms and leisure facilities.
  • Report shows mental health (79%) as one of the leading reasons for joining the gym.
  • ukactive calls for Government to raise awareness of health programmes in gyms and leisure centres to tackle health crisis and save millions for NHS and economy.

ukactive is calling for the Government to tap into growing consumer demand for gyms and leisure centres as it publishes its first Consumer Engagement report, revealing major opportunities to improve health and wellbeing across the UK.

ukactive’s Consumer Engagement project monitors the nation’s relationship with gyms, swimming pools and leisure facilities, with the inaugural report based on 16 months’ worth of data taken across five waves of polling from more than 10,000 existing, former, and potential fitness and leisure consumers.

Polling* is collected each quarter in partnership with Savanta and tracks trends on a range of topics, including current physical activity levels, gym membership status and usage; barriers and motivations to physical activity participation; what health means to consumers; the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and how the sector is supporting users with long-term health conditions.

The annual report will be followed by regular quarterly insights which provide valuable analysis of consumer attitudes and trends – helping the sector to reach five million new members by 2030 as part of ukactive’s Vision 2030 strategy.

The report reveals the following motivations for taking out gym memberships and accessing facilities:

  • To improve/maintain physical strength and fitness (82%)
  • To improve mental health and wellbeing, including managing anxiety or depression (79%)
  • To improve my overall confidence (75%)
  • To improve/maintain my physical appearance (75%)
  • To improve my sleep (67%)

While the findings demonstrate growing recognition of the holistic benefits of physical activity in these environments, the report also demonstrates the potential for a much greater role in supporting community health and the economy.

The data from January 2024’s wave of polling, shows that just 17% of respondents with a health condition are aware of programmes within their local gym or fitness facility that could support their recovery or management of their condition.

The figure is lower for those with a health condition who have never been a member of a facility, with just 6% having an awareness of such programmes (compared to 44% for current members) – suggesting millions are missing out on opportunities to help them manage, support and improve their condition.

Fitness and leisure operators across the UK are running proven health programmes that relieve pressure on frontline NHS services and provide better access to support at the heart of communities.

ukactive’s MSK (musculoskeletal) Hubs pilot has seen strong growth across more than 100 sites. A pilot programme at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust which sees physicians offering physiotherapy sessions within gyms and leisure centres in London, saw missed appointments drop from 17-23% to 12-16% during the pilot.

Another proven programme is GM Active’s Prehab4Cancer initiative in Greater Manchester, which helps newly diagnosed cancer patients improve their outlook through physical activity.

Widely published evidence shows that physical activity is essential in preventing over 20 chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, many types of cancer, MSK conditions, depression and anxiety, and dementia – generating more than £5.2  billion in healthcare savings a year.

Ill health among working-age people is projected to cost the UK economy approximately £150bn a year, with £70bn of this being a direct cost to the Government.

The overall costs of mental ill health equate to £153bn – double the entire budget of the NHS in England (data from 2022). NHS waiting lists are estimated to be close to a record 10 million people.

While the Government is left to manage a growing health crisis with reduced budgets, today’s report demonstrates the opportunity for major returns based on a combination of driving public awareness and targeted investment in gyms, swimming pools and leisure facilities.

The report also identifies the main barriers to joining facilities for potential consumers, including:

  • The cost of a membership (69%)
  • Not seeing the need for a membership (47%)
  • Not having the confidence to attend a facility (43%)

However, with operators offering a wide range of memberships to cater for all budgets, more can be done by the Government, working in partnership with the sector, to raise awareness of the options, the support, and the benefits of accessing these facilities.

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “We are proud to launch this major new report which provides the data and insights necessary for our sector and the Government to do more to get the nation active.

“It shows that today’s gym member recognises the myriad benefits of being active for their mental health and wellbeing, as well as their physical condition.

“However, it also shows that too many people are unaware of the incredible options and services available in their community to support their overall health or to help manage a condition.

“Gyms and leisure centres can support mental health and pathways into employment, meaning that if we can reach more people, the Government could save hundreds of millions when it comes to NHS costs and economic inactivity.

“Any future Government must prioritise three simple things if it is serious about shifting the dial on the nation’s health and our economy. The first is working with our sector to recognise the fullest role it can play in supporting the nation’s mental health. The second is empowering our sector to reach even more people, which can be achieved through reforms to the tax and regulatory system that would help operators to lower prices. Finally, collaborate with our sector on a national campaign to increase awareness of the fantastic health programmes in gyms and leisure centres.”

Sarah Hitchcock-Hall, Group Commercial Director at Dyaco UK, the Core Partner for ukactive’s Consumer Engagement workstream, said: “We are thrilled to be strategically partnering with ukactive to help us guide our suppliers with key consumer and industry trends, meaning we can be at the forefront of knowing how the UK health and fitness sector needs to continue to adapt and evolve.

“We are passionate about helping to drive ukactive’s vision of getting five million people active by 2030, attracting as many new people as possible to use gyms and leisure centres on a regular basis, understanding the diverse barriers, wants, and needs of the nation.”

To find out more about Consumer Engagement and to read the first annual report, click here.

*Data within this report was collected across five waves of polling between September 2022 and January 2024. Data collection dates were: Wave 1 – 23-26 September 2022, Wave 2 – 17-20 March 2023, Wave 3 – 13-17 July 2023, Wave 4 – 22-25 September 2023, Wave 5 – 4-11 January 2024. Polling was conducted through market research specialists Savanta, with a UK nationally representative (based on age, region, gender, and social grade) minimum sample of 2,000 adults. Analysis was undertaken by the ukactive Research Institute.