Business Blog

Fitness Industry is No. 1 in Growth in 2018


If statistics can tell a story, then here’s a tale you’ll enjoy if you’re in the fitness products market: The fitness segment of U.S. sports and activities shows more growth than any other.


The following summary, our third in a series, breaks down recently released research from the National Sporting Goods Association. The organization keeps close tabs on 57 different sports and activities (categories) with 10 segments and then uses a Total Participation Points scale to lend weight to frequency of participation within the various categories. We’ve already looked at the Outdoor Recreation and Open Water segments in past blogs. Let’s see why Fitness is winning the race for participants these days.


The NSGA’s Fitness segment includes a variety of activities such as aerobic exercise, exercising with equipment, Pilates, weights, club and yoga. However, here we are going to focus on the remaining two categories that tie most closely with the outdoors lifestyle: running/jogging and exercise walking. We should also point out that hiking participation has been on a steady climb, and it’s obviously closely related to running and walking, but for the purposes of NSGA’s data, it’s included in the Outdoors segment. We recently covered that here.


General Takeaways

The Fitness segment, when looked at via the NSGA’s Total Participation Points system, has showed remarkably growth in recent times. It has jumped from an average of 183 TPPs in the 1990s to 227 in the 2000s and 280 thus far in the 2010s. The real growth has come in the last five years, with 2018 topping out at 363 million participants.


Also notable is the fact that Fitness was the top growth segment from 2017 to 2018, up 1.4%


As noted in the research, it’s been running/jogging and exercise walking that have contributed greatly to this growth. One reason: Time and expense are very controllable. Even so, the footwear and exercise clothing portions of the clothing industry benefit greatly when folks are on the move. More details:


Exercise Walking

  • Of the 57 categories measured by the NSGA, male participation is almost always higher than female participation. This category, however, shows the largest divergence. In 2018 there were 58.5 million female exercise walkers in the U.S., compared with 47.6 million males.
  • Exercise walking has grown from a total of 93.4 million participants in 2009 to 106.1 million last year.
  • Exercise walkers are quite dedicated. More than one-third (34.9%) walked for exercise frequently (more than 110 times) in 2018. Occasional walkers (25-109 times) made up 42.9% of participants last year, while 23% are categorized at infrequent at 6-24 times.
  • It’s interesting to see that a healthy portion of the population keeps right on walking after they are perhaps not as well suited to more strenuous activities. The largest age group category is 55-64, with 21.5 million participants, followed by 45-54 at 18 million and 65-74 at 17.8 million.



  • The number of runners hitting the pavement has grown remarkably and steadily in the past 10 years, from 32.2 million participants in 2009 to 44.2 million today.
  • There is little variance in the split between male and female runners. In most years, only a few percentage points separate them. In 2018, that split was 23.2 million males vs. 21.1 million females.
  • Nearly half of runners (45.5%) get out between 25 and 109 times per year and are categorized as occasional. Another 24.1% are frequent runners at 110 or more times, followed by infrequent (6-24 times) runners at 30.3%.
  • The 25-34 age group is the sweet spot for running, with 10.3 million participants. The 35-44 age group includes 8.6 million runners, followed by 18-24 at 6.9 million and 45-54 at 5.6 million.
  • Who’s spending on running? Everyone: The number of running members of households who earn more than $75,000 per year is nearly equal to the number who earn great than that.


The next blog post in this series will look at the Shooting segment, specifically the categories of target archery, bowhunting, firearms hunting, target shooting and muzzleloading.


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