Irish fitness industry shapes up for the multi-million euro challenge

Irish fitness industry shapes up for the multi-million euro challenge
File photo

July, as the high point of the summer, marks one of the busiest periods in the fitness industry calendar.

Driven by a variety of factors, including the traditional desire to have a better shape for the beach holiday, or trying to emulate the stars of Love Island, the gym business hits top gear around this time of the year.

Over 500,000 people in the Republic are fitness club members in an industry worth up to €300m annually.

With an average of 700 members per outlet, Ireland has one of the lowest members to club ratios in Europe - a statistic that has seen the arrival of a number of chains to open outlets here over the last two years.

While the industry across the EU has experienced a boom in recent years to reach €27bn annually, Ireland lags behind our neighbours with 10% of the population having fitness memberships - half the European norm.

The market continues to expand with operators such as Studio Fitness, Energie, Anytime Fitness, FlyeFit and Raw only some of the firms opening new outlets.

They are catering mainly for 18 to 40-year-olds but increasingly bolstered by those who are over 55 -- an age group defined by the industry as golden oldies who are embracing healthier lifestyles.

A recent report by Deloitte and not-for-profit group EuropeActive estimated that the health and fitness industry across the EU was worth €27.2bn in 2018, a value which was up only 1.2% from the previous year.

Nonetheless, the value of the industry in Europe puts it in the top condition as the world’s largest fitness market, ahead of North America’s €26.6bn value.

While the market in the Republic continues to grow, its current membership is equivalent to 10.4% of the population -- it is still considerably behind Sweden’s 21.6% share and just over 17% in the Netherlands.

The report also found Ireland average membership fee of €49 is considerably above the European norm of €39.30.

Up to the 1990s, fitness centres and gyms here were mostly male-only domains, populated with team activity and club training.

The arrival of the early 2000s saw a sea change as the wider population turned to health and wellness as an affordable outlet for the stresses and strains of modern life.

Gyms began to change with the arrival of more advanced equipment, an assortment of health and toning classes, nutrition advice, affordable personal training, and top-notch coffee machines.

This change was also driven by the arrival of women in large numbers - athletic pioneers bringing a new gender dimension into these palaces of body reconstruction.

As the host of RTÉ’s Operation Transformation, Kathryn Thomas is also the founder of Pure Results Bootcamp, a diet and exercise camp incorporating intense workouts, nutrition, and meditation at a number of location.

Kathryn Thomas
Kathryn Thomas

“When we set up Pure Results in 2015, I realised right off there was something powerful about bringing people together in this forum, many of whom were making the brave decision to come out of their comfort zone. We are all working so hard now, there is a growing appreciation for health and wellness amongst Irish people. People want to put their money into something that’s worthwhile, educational and healthy,” she said.

The camps create a range of bespoke programmes for companies combining nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, and mental fitness, designed to re-energise teams.

“The greatest testament of a solid corporate wellness programme is that it creates long-term change by shifting mindsets, addressing stress and renewing energy levels. There’s a respect that comes from meeting with other people who want to take care of themselves, to achieve more, to better themselves - that’s a very powerful thing,” said the broadcaster.

The growth in popularity of gyms and fitness centres also found serious traction with a new generation seeking an alternative to the pub.

“The fact that people meet in a gym indicates a like-minded approach and interest in keeping fit and healthy, and it breaks down a lot of barriers with people who’re into the same thing you are,” said Pat Henry, trainer to visiting stars Bruce Springsteen, Helen Mirren, and Matt Dillon.

Mr Henry has witnessed at first-hand how setting common goals for fitness and weight loss can lead to building business and life partnerships beyond the cross-trainer.

Where an earlier generation might have sealed a deal at the 19th hole of Little Island or Portmarnock, today’s movers and shakers are doing it dressed in body-hugging lycra after a kayak race on the Lakes of Killarney.

As the originator of the Company Wellness Programme, he works with a variety of companies and business groups, including Bank of Ireland, Aer Rianta, Deloitte, and Ibec.

“Company wellness weekends are becoming a huge sector now, and we bring corporate groups of up to 40 on incentive breaks and team-building weekends that incorporate a range of different activities. We have ongoing bootcamps which are hugely popular with companies in energising the workforce, keeping healthy and cutting down absenteeism,” Mr Henry said.

In the same way it is influencing many aspects of everyday life, technology is also helping the growth of the fitness industry.

Wearable devices such as the Fitbit and smartphones are providing biometric health statistics at the touch of a button.

Measuring how many steps taken in a day, the number of calories burnt, plus a constant monitoring of heart rate and blood pressure allow fitness enthusiasts to understand their bodies like never before.

Digital information is affecting healthy decisions about exercise, nutrition and maintaining good mental wellbeing.

These are all factors at play in today’s stressful world.

John Hancock, one of the largest life insurance providers in North America, recently announced it will no longer offer policies that do not include digital fitness tracking.

The company will now sell only “interactive” policies that collect health data through wearable devices such as a smartwatch.

It provides policyholders to earn discounts and rewards for hitting exercise targets.

John Hancock launched its first interactive policy in 2015 and will now apply the model across all of its policies.

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