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White paper: more needs to be done to promote group exercise

With a whole-system approach, we can achieve a healthier nation through exercise
– Emma Forward

Group exercise is being presented as a solution to two of society's growing problems – inactivity and loneliness.

A white paper published this week by EMD UK – the national governing body for group exercise – outlines the value and "far-reaching impact" of group fitness classes.

Entitled Sweating Your Assets: The value of group exercise, the report showcases the growing popularity of group-based training.

However, it also claims that the activity is "widely undervalued" as a gateway to activity – not just by the public but also by the fitness industry.

According to EMD UK figures, around 4.86 million people take part in group classes every week, following rapid growth which has seen the number grow by one million participants since 2016.

A large part of those are people who have been "activated" through classes – 29 per cent of current group exercise participants were classed as inactive before starting in a class.

As well as physical health benefits, the paper outlines how group exercise can be used to promote mental health benefits – such as tackling loneliness through social inclusion opportunities.

Despite the merits of group exercise and the growing number of people participating, EMD UK says that more needs to be done to promote the value of group exercise to wider society – and that health club operators have a key role to play.

"Group exercise is often an afterthought in leisure centre membership promotions, where the marketing line 'free classes included' frequently and instantly undervalues the activity," the report says.

"Many leisure and fitness operators are under pressure to reduce costs and offer cheaper services.

"Cuts to local authority budgets, the rise of the budget gym chains and growing competition for leisure spend mean the fitness market place is as competitive as it’s ever been.

"Health club operators and leisure providers must do more to promote the value of group exercise to their local communities to create healthier, more active people."

The report also claims that the group exercise workforce is "endemically undervalued".

"Instructors are the second biggest influencer on group exercise attendance and the face of the activity," the report states.

"Despite their work in helping people to get active, many instructors have not had a pay rise in over 10 years. Investing in instructor pay, continued professional development and understanding the value group exercise brings to their business all ways that health club operators can raise the profile of group exercise for the good of the nation."

Emma Forward, chief operating officer of EMD UK and author of the white paper, added: “As an activity, the benefits of group exercise are far-reaching.

"It is not just the individual participants who profit from better physical health, but wider society; increased mental welfare, lower stress, the opportunity to meet new people, fewer sick days, a reason to leave the house – all of these culminate in a healthier, more active society who are less dependent on social care.

“As the national governing body for group exercise, we are calling on the public, local authorities, health club operators, the workforce and the industry to recognise the value of group exercise. With one million more people participating since 2016, many more inactive people will convert to a regular physical activity habit. With a whole-system approach, we can achieve a healthier nation through exercise and Sweating Your Assets marks the start of this challenge for EMD UK.”

• To read the white paper, click here for the EMD UK website and to download Sweating Your Assets: The value of group exercise.

• To read a feature-length article on the current landscape of group exercise, click here for HCM Issue 2 2019.

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