Health & Fitness Industry Aims to Come Back Stronger Than Ever

    Health and fitness professionals gathered at the second United We Rise - Stronger Than Ever event to learn where industry relief efforts stand and what recovery will look like in the future.

    On Tuesday, June 29, health and fitness industry stakeholders gathered for the second industry action event, United We Rise - Stronger Than Ever. The theme was “Relief and Recovery,” and the overarching message was clear: the world needs physical activity now more than ever, and we must capitalize on opportunities to emerge from the pandemic as a more united, more impactful, and more powerful industry.

    The distinguished speakers included:

    • Brent Darden, Interim President & CEO, IHRSA

    • Gale Landers, CEO/Founder, Fitness Formula Clubs; Chairperson, National Health & Fitness Alliance (NHFA)

    • Fiona Bull, MBE, Ph.D., Msc., Head of Unit, Physical Activity, Department of Health Promotion, World Health Organization

    • Blair McHaney, President/CEO, MXM and Confluence Fitness Partners

    • Daniel Krieglstein, P.h.D., Executive Director of Behavioral Design, ClearView Insights

    • Michelle Segar, P.h.D., MPH, MS, Best-selling Author of No Sweat; Director, University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center; Board Member, IHRSA Medical, Science, and Health Advisory Board

    Watch the full event above or read the following highlights from the event.

    Gaining Relief for the Fitness Industry

    After opening remarks from Brent Darden, Gale Landers provided a brief overview of the GYMS (Gym Mitigation & Survival) Act (H.R. 890/S. 1613) and detailed exactly how this legislation could financially assist health and fitness-related businesses. So far, more than 35,000 letters have been sent to Congress, urging them to include the GYMS Act in any future COVID-19 relief package. Numerous efforts to pass the GYMS Act have been underway, and most recently, 16 organizations released a letter calling on Congress to support the legislation.

    At the time of writing, the GYMS Act has 142 House co-sponsors and the Senate version of the bill has nine co-sponsors. Landers stressed the symbolic importance of reaching 150 co-sponsors because of the precedent set by the Restaurant and Stage/Concert Venue industries, which achieved 153 and 174 co-sponsors, respectively, for similar legislation that was ultimately passed by both legislative chambers and signed by the president.

    Landers urged all health and fitness industry leaders to participate in the GYMS Act one-click campaign and share it with members, friends, and family.

    While the GYMS Act seeks to bring financial relief, Landers noted that efforts continue to provide financial incentives for Americans through the use of tax-deferred accounts (HSAs and FSAs) to get people back in the gyms and kids back to their sports—PHIT (Personal Health Investment Today) Act (H.R. 3109/S. 844). So far, the bill has gained 31 House sponsors and support from 12 Senators. Contact your legislators to gain support for the PHIT Act.

    Landers also highlighted the National Health & Fitness Alliance (NHFA)—a newly formed community-driven alliance that brings thought leaders and changemakers together to impact the future of the health and fitness industry—as critical to the current and future advocacy success of the health and fitness industry. “What we are doing is building an advocacy powerhouse that really is laser focused on the U.S., so that we can influence legislation across the country,” said Landers.

    The NHFA is funded by a portion of all IHRSA membership dues, donations from IHRSA Industry Partners, and contributions from industry allies and stakeholders.

    The Road to Recovery

    After Landers, Fiona Bull provided a global perspective of the current state of physical activity around the world. IHRSA has supported The World Health Organization (WHO) since 2018, when the WHO invited IHRSA to join a dialogue to help inform them for The Global Action Plan on Physical Activity. “The U.S. has had very much a leadership role in physical activity from research, policy, practice, and advocacy,” said Bull. “But, it is important there is a global tool that says exactly that: Physical activity is important, the evidence and research is there, and this is what we do.”

    The goal for The Global Action Plan is to attain a 15% improvement in global physical activity by 2030. Bull notes that getting more people to be physically active can be achieved through:

    • international communication and partnerships,

    • producing guidelines and tools,

    • broadening the current messaging and language to be more inclusive,

    • investment in sport and physical activity services and programs, and

    • research.

    Creating global documents, guidelines, and tools expressing the scientific importance of exercise and physical activity is an important landmark, said Bull. In September, the WHO will release an advocacy document that highlights how to recover and rebuild the sport, health, and fitness-related sectors.

    The third section of the event focused on insight from the field of behavioral science that can benefit the health and fitness industry.

    First, Blair McHaney introduced the ongoing collaboration between the IHRSA Industry Messaging Headlight Team, which includes some of the industry’s sharpest marketing minds, and ClearView Insights, which is a research team of Ph.D. psychologists that specializes in behavioral design. Together, the headlight team and ClearView Insights worked to create a simple message about physical activity that could unite the industry and resonate with the entire global community: individuals that visited a health club or studio 5 days/week prior to COVID-19, those that have been sedentary for years, and everyone in between. The result of their efforts is the ReConnect campaign.

    Re Connect man running unsplash column

    The Headlight Team discussed multiple messaging options but kept returning to “ReConnect.” This message captured the joy of movement and the daily struggle of renewing well-being. Furthermore, it offered immediate relevance as we enter the post-COVID period.

    ClearView Insights tested the ReConnect messaging to ensure that inactive and active people responded to messaging related to mood, well-being, and physical activity. The results showed that people naturally associate exercise with improving mood and feeling better, which strongly suggests that the health and fitness industry can increase its impact by amplifying that narrative.

    “It’s about perception,” said Daniel Krieglstein, the lead researcher from ClearView Insights. “Not only do people perceive the fitness journey to be a struggle with the reward at the end, but unfortunately, they’re also competing against messages that are selling them instant gratification.”

    Michelle Segar reinforced the premise of the ReConnect campaign during her Q&A with Darden. “Most people think there is only one right way to exercise,” she said. “Part of our job is to help people break down those beliefs.”

    As the industry moves forward, reframing the conversation around exercise from “no pain, no gain” and the long-term physical benefits of being active to the instant gratification of mood enhancement and improved well-being is key to increasing the number of people exercising. The ReConnect to Well-being Campaign has a sense of urgency and relevancy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the calls to arms for a daily renewal of well-being and the emotional return on investment that exercise provides is timeless.

    IHRSA asks that anyone in the health and fitness segments joins the ReConnect Campaign and reconnects your members and community to activity. The video serves as just one example of the reconnect message that can be adopted by the fitness industry for promotional use. Additional examples of how this campaign is being used as well as plans for promoting the ReConnect messaging will be available soon. Sign up to stay involved with the campaign at

    Author avatar

    Sami Smith

    Sami Smith is IHRSA's Senior Manager of Digital Communications, working to shape the organization's image on various digital platforms. On a typical day, she creates content, delivers impactful communications, and executes targeted marketing efforts to keep IHRSA at the forefront of the industry. Outside of the office, you can find her exploring new destinations, indulging in food, or participating in just about any sport.