Germans working out more, study shows

In comparison to a decade ago, Germans are participating in more sports and fitness activities, including joining and working out at health clubs more.
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In comparison to a decade ago, Germans are participating in more sports and fitness activities, including joining and working out at health clubs more.

A recent review of research literature released by Germany's Fit For Fun magazine, including independent research and some surveys of its own, found that two-thirds of the country's population older than 16 said it participated in "sport" in 2003 (the latest year available), compared to 56 percent in 1992. Most of that increase -- 8 percent -- came from those who said they are now participating regularly in some kind of activity. (Note: The information was released only in German and therefore uses the German terminology of "sport," which typically also includes fitness activities and better translates to "physical activity.")

Despite the North American trend of women becoming more active, this data shows that the number of men who are regularly or occasionally active is up 14 percent, from 56 percent to 70 percent. However, the number of active women is up only 10 percent -- from 52 percent to 62 percent. Interestingly, the number of regularly active women accounts for that entire 10 percent gain.

Memberships in health clubs (typically called "fitness studios," a German term that normally includes not only larger clubs but also smaller studios) have grown significantly since 1992 -- more than 250 percent, from 2 million to 5.08 million. Still, the economy has affected memberships, which shrunk from its peak in 2001 of 5.39 million.

The number of clubs has also increased over the last decade from 4,750 in 1992 to 6,500 in 2002; however, the latest count is still a slide backward to the number two years earlier from a slight increase in 2001 of 6,550.

The research from Fit For Fun -- a thick magazine founded in 1994 with a monthly circulation of 2.09 million, of which about 70 percent is women -- also shows that the attitude toward fitness and why someone is physically active has also changed between 1995 and 2003/2004. In 1995, 42.4 percent said their goal was to do more for their health, with 34.2 percent stating a goal as becoming a more well-balanced person, both physically and emotionally. That nearly flip-flopped by 2003/2004, with 43.6 percent now stating a goal of life balance and 35.7 percent opting for health. A goal of fitness alone remained in third place -- 20.3 percent in 1995 and 24.6 percent in 2003/2004.

Among activities, nearly 75 percent said they ride a bike. (Perspective: Many Germans ride bikes to and from work, school and errands, when one adds the goal of fitness to bike-riding, the participation percentage drops to 17.5 percent.) The next most popular, in order, are swimming with 61.8 percent; then jogging/running/walking, 38.1 percent (all lumped together); hiking and casual walking, 33.5 percent; exercise in general such as calisthenics, 28.8 percent; and working out at health clubs, 22.4 percent.

Among those who don't participate in physical activity or only seldom do, the study finds that 56.48 million additional consumers could be participating in some kind of activity, including the 10.35 million now considered "couch potatoes."

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