Health Clubs Are Not Spreading COVID-19, Study Finds

A study of more than 49.4 million visits to U.S. gyms over three months found a COVID-19 positive rate that was more than 500 times less than the current estimated U.S. national average. (Photo by Drazen Zigic/iStock/Getty Images Plus.)

Of more than 49.4 million health club visits over three months, 0.0023 percent tested positive for COVID-19, which is more than 500 times less than the current estimated U.S. national average, according to a study by MXM, a technology and knowledge transfer company specializing in member tracking within the fitness industry.

The study tracked member check-in data from May 1-Aug. 6 at 2,873 U.S. health clubs and studios using self-reported infections. Participating clubs included Anytime Fitness, Life Time, Planet Fitness and Orangetheory.  

"As recently as a few months ago, the data correlating fitness facility visits and mitigating risk was practically nonexistent," MXM CEO Blair McHaney said in a media release. " All that's changed – and for the better. It's become abundantly clear that the safety measures gyms, sports clubs and boutique fitness centers have in place are not only incredibly effective at keeping their membership safe but also curbing any potential spread of COVID-19 during a time when we all need access to exercise facilities to stay healthy."

MXM, along with IHRSA, invited all health and fitness clubs in the United States to participate in the long-form study. Over the course of the study, fitness centers provided their total check-ins and number of locations across all states in which they have a presence as well as self-reported the total number of positive COVID-19 cases documented between employees and members who have been in the club. MXM previously conducted a study surrounding the lack of concentrated outbreaks in fitness facilities with affirming results just last month.

"The check-in data proves that health clubs, when following strict cleaning and safety protocols, are safe," Brent Darden, IHRSA interim president and CEO, said in the release. "At IHRSA, we have a responsibility to educate and inform people that they should feel comfortable and confident going into fitness facilities throughout the country right now. The data shows that, with proper sanitization protocols in place, people can safely return to their workout routines. Working out has never been more important to help boost immunity and improve mental health. It's time to acknowledge that gyms are safe."

Several studies have shown that physical activity plays a role in not only maintaining a healthy immune system but also in reducing COVID-19 risk factors such as obesity, heart disease, lung disease and diabetes. In the United States, 42.4 percent of adults and 18.5 percent of children and adolescents  are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Physical fitness has long-term mental health benefits as well, including reducing the risk of stress and depression. One in five Americans experience mental health illness, and people with mental illness have 40 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population.

"Fitness centers are needed now more than ever to help us stay active and maintain a healthy immune system," Robert Sallis, M.D. with Kaiser Permanente, said in the release. "COVID-19 risk factors haven't changed since the pandemic began—obesity, heart disease, lung disease and diabetes put you at much higher risk for both short- and long-term complications. It's imperative that we all make real change now to stay healthy given that exercise is an essential part of life."

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