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Seattle is among the US cities with the largest drop in gym membership

The pandemic has turned many aspects of our lives upside down, including how we exercise. With gyms closing in 2020 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, many of us have tried to find alternative ways to keep fit.

Gyms in Washington opened again over a year ago. The last state-imposed lockdown was lifted in January 2021. But how many of us have gone back to the gym?

New data from market research firm Nielsen shows that Seattle-area gym memberships are still lagging behind pre-pandemic levels. In fact, Seattle has experienced one of the largest declines in gym membership among the large metro areas in the United States.

Surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019 showed that about 28% of adults in the Seattle area, or about 875,000 people, had a gym or health club membership. In the most recent surveys from 2021 and 2022, that number has fallen to 18%, or 595,000 people — 280,000 fewer people.

Nielsen data showed that the decline in gym memberships since 2018-2019 affected nearly every major metro area in the United States — and nationally, there were about 11 million fewer gym members.

Among the 50 most populous metro areas, Seattle’s 10 percentage point drop ranks as the seventh largest drop in gym membership. San Diego scored the biggest drop at nearly 15 points.

Only one metro area out of the 50 largest has seen an increase in the proportion of adults belonging to a gym: Providence, Rhode Island. It wasn’t much of a change, going from 19% before the pandemic to 20% in the most recent data.

So does the drop in gym membership mean that people have become more sedentary since the pandemic?

not necessarily. While gyms are the most popular way to get regular exercise, you definitely don’t need to belong to a gym to stay fit. Some people who may not feel safe going to the gym anymore have turned to home workouts, investing in exercise equipment or participating in online fitness classes. Nielsen data shows that 23% of adults in the Seattle area own home exercise equipment.

I was among those who canceled my gym membership in 2020, but came back in early 2021. There were obviously a lot fewer people, but I don’t think many of us were complaining – no one likes an overcrowded weight room or waiting for a machine to edit it. But it’s definitely not good news for gym owners and employees. The fitness industry has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, and many gyms have closed.

The Nielsen data also shows that there was no significant change in participation in certain types of exercise in the Seattle area. For example, the latest figures show that about 16% of local adults said they had practiced yoga or Pilates in the past 12 months – unchanged from the pre-pandemic period. About 32% rode a bicycle, which was also unchanged. and 24% have started working, which is just below the pre-pandemic period.

One form of physical activity in particular – hiking – has gone viral during the pandemic in Seattle.

On the other hand, swimming and fitness classes have seen a significant drop in participation since the 2018-2019 period.

There is research showing that the epidemic has led to an overall decrease in physical activity. There is also data showing that the so-called COVID 15 phenomenon was a real thing – many Americans gained some unwanted weight during the pandemic, which is probably due in part to a decrease in physical activity.

Nielsen’s data shows, as you might expect, that younger people are more likely to belong to the gym than older people. But it’s not a huge difference. About 22% of those ages 18 to 34 in the Seattle area have a membership, compared to 18% of those 65 or older.

While there has been a decline in gym membership among all age groups, the 35-49 age group stands out. In the pre-pandemic period, 33% had a gym membership, the highest of any age group. That number has dropped to just 18% in the latest data release.

There was also a significantly greater decline among men than among women. Before the pandemic, 32% of Seattle-area men had a gym membership — which dropped to 19% in the 2021-2022 period. Among women, the number decreased more modestly, from 24% to 17%.