Fitness tops activity choices, but groups don't agree which

No wonder the public -- and the fitness industry -- is so confused about what sports and activities have the most participants or are growing the strongest. Lists of the top sports activities for 2003 done by two groups and both released this month paint a conflicting picture.
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No wonder the public -- and the fitness industry -- is so confused about what sports and activities have the most participants or are growing the strongest. Lists of the top sports activities for 2003 done by two groups and both released this month paint a conflicting picture.

Sure, both groups show that fitness-oriented endeavors are basically still among the top choices, but the similarities end there.

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association "Sports Participation Topline Report" shows "treadmill exercise" in 2003 as the overall No. 2 choice with 45.6 million participants, which is second only to bowling (yes, really Â… bowling) with 55 million participants. "Fitness walking," much talked about as a leader, was overall No. 8, with 37.9 million participants. For the SGMA, a "participant" for most activities is someone age 6 and over who took part at least once during the year. That group said in its official release that "fitness is king."

Let's compare: The National Sporting Goods Association's annual "Sports Participation" report doesn't break out treadmill exercise, but shows "exercising with equipment" with 48.6 million participants in the No. 3 overall spot, with No. 1 going to "exercise walking" (a whopping 79.5 million participants, or more than double the SGMA's number). Bowling drops to No. 5 in this group's report with 39.4 million taking part (or about a third less than the SGMA found). For the NSGA, a participant is some age 7 and over who participated more than once. The NSGA said in its release that "after a strong showing in 2002, fitness activities showed modest growth or declines in 2003."

Now, what about growth? Oooooo, also a tad different. Treadmill exercise, according to the SGMA, shows 4.9 percent growth over a year earlier. The NSGA's "exercising with equipment" shows 3.9 percent growth. Fitness walking? SGMA, a drop of 0.1 percent; NSGA, a drop of 3.3 percent. (In case you care, the SGMA says bowling is up 3.5 percent, while the NSGA says it's down 7.1 percent.)

The SGMA's list has the following fitness activities in the top 25, with numbers in millions and the change in percent showing growth or (decline), 2003 over 2002:

2. Treadmill exercise, 45.6, 4.9 percent

4. Stretching, 42.1, 9.7 percent

8. Fitness walking, 37.9, (0.1) percent

9. Running/jogging, 36.2, 0.8 percent

11. Dumbbells, 30.5, 5.6 percent

12. Weight/resistance machines, 30.0, 7.7 percent

13. Hand weights, 29.7, 4.5 percent

14. Calisthenics, 28.0, 4.3 percent

16. Barbells, 25.6, 3.4 percent

20. Stationary cycling/upright, 17.5, 0.5 percent

21. Abdominal machine/device, 17.4, 0 percent

The NSGA lists the following fitness activities among the top 25, also with numbers in millions and the change in percent showing growth or (decline), 2003 over 2002:

1. Exercise walking, 79.5, (3.3) percent

3. Exercising with equipment, 48.6, 3.9 percent

9. Aerobic exercising, 28.0, (3.4) percent

11. Weight-lifting, 25.9, 3.1 percent

15. Running/jogging, 22.9, (7.3) percent

So you can take a look yourself:

The SGMA's chart of the top 30 sports activities and recreational endeavors in the United States is available by clicking here. The group's Topline summary, excerpted from the SGMA's "Superstudy of Sports Participation," which surveys 103 activities, can be downloaded by clicking here.

The NSGA report is part of its annual "Sports Participation -- Series I and II" reports, which will be available later this month. It surveys 44 activities, and also includes frequency of participation, number of days, and demographic and geographic data. For more information on these reports, go to www.nsga.org or email info@nsga.org.

SNEWS® View: We were surprised once a number of years ago when we decided on a whim to go bowling with some friends -- and found we couldn't even book a lane anywhere because of leagues. So we know from personal experience this bowling stuff ain't no joke. But otherwise we know -- and you know -- that statistics can be pushed and molded a lot of different ways and much of the differences depend on how the studies are undertaken and results extrapolated. The age thing baffles us. Sure, it makes sense for activities like soccer or bicycling to include kids as young as 6 or 7, but for weight-lifting or fitness walking? Oh HA -- just another one of those little things you have to giggle at and ignore for its lack of good sense. Also, the fact that the SGMA breaks down its activities into more categories will also change the numbers slightly. For now, however, you'll just have to take these for what they're worth, ponder them a bit, and take a guess which one you believe is more accurate.

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