What you need to know

Nearly a third of consumers take part in exercise to relieve stress, making it the second most common motivator behind only fat loss. The mental benefits of exercise are now considered just as important as the physical benefits, with heightened stress levels surrounding COVID-19 only likely to spur this on further.

The impact of COVID-19 on the health and fitness sector has been somewhat polarising. On one hand, private health and fitness clubs, public leisure centres and organised sport have suffered greatly due to an extensive period of closures lasting around four months in most cases. On the other hand, interest in and usage of in-home exercise products and services such as fitness equipment and virtual platforms have surged.

Competition between the offline and online fitness markets has intensified, and operators on both sides are racing to incorporate the best of both. Venue operators will need to expand their digital content offers and emphasise their position at the centre of communities. Digital brands should use individuals’ data to offer hyper-personalised coaching to meet their unique health and fitness goals.

Whilst health and fitness venues will take a significant hit in 2020, there is good reason for operators to be optimistic about the long-term future. COVID-19 has heightened awareness about the benefits of exercise for both physical and mental health, with a third of consumers saying exercise has become a bigger priority for them since the start of the outbreak.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on the health and fitness sector.

  • The long-term opportunities in home fitness.

  • How, where and why consumers exercised prior to COVID-19, and what changes have occurred as a result of the pandemic.

  • Consumers’ attitudes towards mental health and the role of exercise within this.

Covered in this Report

This Report provides an in-depth look at the exercise market in the UK by analysing exercise and fitness trends, consumers’ behaviours and attitudes.

COVID-19: Market context

This Report was prepared on 9 July 2020.

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January 2020 with a small number of cases in February. The government focused on the ‘contain’ stage of its strategy, with the country continuing to operate much as normal. As the case level rose significantly, the government ordered the closure of non-essential stores on 20th March 2020.

A wider lockdown requiring people to stay at home except for essential shopping, exercise and work ‘if absolutely necessary’ followed on 23rd March. Initially, a three-week timeframe was put on the measures, which was extended in mid-April for another three weeks.

On 10 May 2020, the Prime Minister announced revised guidance, recommending that people who could not work from home should return to the workplace, and giving people more scope to spend time out of the home. Further relaxations to lockdown rules were announced in the week of 23rd May, including gradual reopening of non-essential retailers and increased opportunities for social interaction across households. Hospitality businesses were allowed to reopen in England on 4 July.

Health and fitness context

On 20 March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the closure of gyms and leisure centres across the UK to fight the spread of COVID-19. The large majority (if not all) of gyms and leisure centres reacted quickly to the news, automatically freezing memberships to ensure members would not be paying unnecessarily.

The UK government’s stay-at-home guidance acknowledged the importance of physical activity for mental and emotional wellbeing. When further lockdown rules were implemented on 23 March and people could only leave the house for essential purposes, this included exercising once per day.

On 11 May, the public in England were allowed ‘unlimited exercise’ and could rest and sit outside or play sports with members of their own household.

From 13 May, sports courts including basketball and tennis courts, bowling greens and playing spaces such as golf courses were able to reopen. Other outdoor sports such as angling were also allowed to resume. All of these activities were to be undertaken alone, with members of the same household or with one other person from a different household.

On 23 June, the government announced the relaxation of the two-metre social distancing rule from 4 July, instead changing it to ‘one metre plus’ meaning two metres where possible but at a minimum, one metre.

As a result, most leisure facilities were able to reopen on 4 July including outdoor gyms and playgrounds. This included recreational sport in outdoor locations with the exception of close-contact team sports. However, ‘close proximity’ venues such as indoor gyms and swimming pools remained closed.

Following lobbying from industry body ukactive, Culture Secretary Olive Dowden announced on 9 July that outdoor pools and certain team sports could reopen from 11 July and indoor gyms, pools and sports facilities may reopen from 25 July.

Economic and other assumptions

Our economic assumptions are based on the illustrative scenario included in the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Report, released on 7th May 2020. The scenario suggests that UK GDP could fall by 14% in 2020, recovering by 15% in 2021, and that unemployment will reach 8% by the end of the year, easing slightly to 7% by the end of 2021. The current uncertainty means that there is wide variation on the range of forecasts, however, and the numbers presented in the BoE's illustrative scenario are at the more pessimistic end of the spectrum.

We are working on the assumption that a vaccine will be available by mid-2021, but that there will be continued disruption to both domestic and global markets for some time after that.

As long as there is not a second wave of infections, social distancing measures should be gradually relaxed over the course of 2020, but we don't expect industries such as hospitality, travel and live entertainment to return to any kind of normality until a vaccine is introduced.

Back to top