The Fitness Industry Boom May Not be Making us Fitter

Statistics reveal that even as the number of gyms and fitness apps grow, obesity rates and obesity-induced diseases are on the rise among Indians

learn more about Sindhujaa Kumar

By Sindhujaa Kumar


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New Year is just around the corner! Nearly 45 per cent of us will be setting fitness resolutions. And within 3 months, 92 per cent will fail. India is the third largest market in the world for the fitness industry, but ironically, we are also the third most obese country in the world.

The fitness industry is one of the most profitable and persuasive businesses out there, but in terms of promised results, it has been a disappointing failure. There are very few fitness brands, technologies and commercial programs which actually deliver what they promise.

Fitness, in India, is currently almost a $2bn industry, growing at the rate of 7.2per cent a year (as per Statista). The largest segment of the market is wearables, with nearly 140 million users in the country.

Did You Know That The Business Models of Many Commercial Gyms And Aggregator Gym Pass Apps - Are Centred Around Members Not Showing Up? (as America's NPR made the public aware of it's "Planet Money' show). A dissection of the Classpass business model revealed - the more regular people used their app for studio/gym workouts, their profit margins degraded abysmally (62per cent profit when a user attended a workout once a week, 24per cent profit if the user attended workouts twice a week). While an avalanche of publicity gets people to sign up in throngs, most gym-chains and apps are designed to hold you to contracts which they know you won't keep. And their affordable pricing actually comes from this very design of you not sticking to their programs in the long run (If you do, be ready to face their pricing "upgrades').

Interestingly enough, there is also data to support that the existing apps, wearables and fitness technology hold no superpowers in helping you maintain your fitness. AMA (American Medical Association) studied the effect of wearables in weight maintenance for over 24 months. 40-50per cent of users lost interest in the wearables after 6 months. And over 2 years, the test groups who followed workout routines and sensible nutrition plans, without trackers or wearables, actually managed their weight and health better by a large degree.

So Why Are The Current Commercial Fitness Models Failing?

1) Imposing Numerical Identities on People

Fitness is not just about calories in and calories out. Obsessing about numbers, such as what most trackers do, will not yield results. Numerous studies show that quality – of both nutrition and exercise – can have more pronounced effects than quantity. Fitness has a mental and emotional dimension to it. We need to tune into our bodies more instinctively to understand what's working and what's not – to know when to push our bodies, when to rest and recover and what to nourish ourselves with. As complex human beings, a bunch of numbers cannot help us heal and maximise our capacities. They can assist us, once we connect more mindfully with our bodies and lifestyles, but the existing technology needs to evolve a lot more before it can dictate terms to make a real difference in our wellness.

2) Pseudo-science and Misinformation

A lot of diets and fitness packages are based on "cherry-picked research', which have no real scientific backing, nor make sense at our primal instinct level. Unsubstantial claims by savvy marketers, target insecurities of people to provide "shortcuts' to a good body. This can actually endanger health. There's also a lot of conflicting information on social media. The only true solution to fitness and health is an active lifestyle and nutritious eating habits (eliminate processed foods & include more natural whole foods). The best workout is one that you can adhere to, at least 4-5 times a week, and should include strength, cardiovascular fitness and stretching.

3) Externalizing Responsibility

People need to stop handing over their health to commercial enterprises and stay accountable to themselves. Collaborate with services that seamlessly fit your lifestyle, and firmly stand answerable to their promises. The greatest challenge that gyms are currently facing – is a lack of qualified trainers – including the biggest and best of brands. Careless training can lead to severe injury. It's important for the individual to stay aware of what feels right and what feels wrong during training and abstain from movements that cause dangerous pain or discomfort.

Starting from bad weather, late working hours and even a lack of car parking at the gym – everything serves as an excuse to skip workouts. We need to stop externalizing our health this way and design our lives to integrate exercise and nutrition in a fun, easy, accessible manner. Whether you choose a yoga studio, a home-workout video, run every morning or join a dance class – pick something you love, so you don't find yourself ready to bunk at the drop of a hat!

Let's end with some enlightenment:

  • There's no "tea' or tablet out there that can magically drop pounds from your body in a week. There's no fad diet that can turn you into a supermodel (heard of relapse? It can wreck your metabolism and leave you worse off than before)

  • There's no tracker out there yet which is smart enough to turn your life around by itself

  • Gyms & studios have existed forever. And so has your weight and health situation. Fancy marketing won't shift your body. You have to do that, with your own hard work.

  • You live in a jungle of information. You have all the tools at your disposal to get fit. Pick a sensible plan that blends in easily with your life, and get healthy.

That being said, all these offerings by the fitness industry are not being undermined. They are essential for societal health. The point here is – the fitness industry needs to develop better business models which not just serve their bottom lines, but also truly transform lives. And every individual needs to make an informed effort to turn his body and life around.
Sindhujaa Kumar

MD (A.M) Demolishing Limits - in Body & Mind

Sindhujaa Kumar is a Holistic Wellness Expert who holds an MD in Alternative Medicines, with 4 core specializations:

1) Exercise & Movement Sciences (with ACSM accreditation- international gold standard credentialling elite sports coaches, exercise scientists and celebrity trainers for cutting-edge strength & conditioning, athletic coaching, yoga and movement therapy) 
2) Nutrition & herbalism
3) Energy Healing (TCM)
4) Emotional intelligence and leadership coaching

Sindhujaa is an established transformation coach for athletes, corporates and individuals - innovatively integrating physical fitness, emotional empowerment techniques and spiritual practices to unlock new dimensions of personal power and impact

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