220 Million ‘active’, 68 Million ‘inactive’

April 9, 2012

SILVER SPRING, MD — While it’s encouraging to report that nearly 220 million Americans are ‘active,’ it’s bad news for the U.S. when nearly 70 million Americans are classified as ‘inactive.’ ‘Inactivity’ levels have risen every year since 2007 in the U.S. And, while the number of ‘inactive’ Americans is still too high, there is better news to report on the ‘activity’ status of children. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association’s (SGMA) Sports, Fitness, & Recreational Activities Participation Topline Report (2012 edition), ‘inactivity’ rates among children ages six to 12 fell from 16.6% in 2010 to 16.0% in 2011. And, ‘inactivity’ rates among adolescents ages 13 to 17 dropped slightly from 16.7% to 16.4%.

“This may well be an early indication that the national efforts to get children ‘off the couch’ and ‘active’ have started to have an effect on their level of activity,” said SGMA President Tom Cove. “Among children age six to 12, ‘inactivity’ fell from 4.6 million children in 2010 to 4.5 million children in 2011. That change represents 100,000 children who are now considered ‘active.’ While this improvement is modest, it’s a sign we are moving in the right direction as we focus on getting our children in better physical shape.”

The Sports, Fitness, & Recreational Activities Participation Topline Report, the definitive source for sports participation in America and the sports industry’s essential reference document for sports participation, has overall participation figures for 119 sports.

The Appeal of the Gym/Health Club/Spa

As a nation, fitness activities are the most popular form of exercise/activity — especially with ‘Generation Y’/Millenials (born between 1980 and 1999). More than 50 million of the Gen Y population works out on machines, with fitness activities and/or at health clubs. Nearly 40 million Gen Yers also pursue outdoor activities and individual sports. More than 45 million ‘Baby Boomers’ (born between 1945 and 1964) also enjoy intense perspiration at gyms, health clubs or in their home gyms. According to this SGMA study, seven out of the top ten most popular athletic activities in the U.S. are fitness-related.

Class based fitness sessions remain a strong aspect of the fitness industry as stationary cycling (group classes) and yoga reached all-time highs in terms of participation. One new category added this year is boot camp style cross-training. Nearly eight million people gave this new activity a try and 2.8 million people are now considered ‘core’ participants.

Checking the ‘Pulse’ of Team Sports

The top three most popular team sports are basketball (24.8 million participants), outdoor soccer (13.7 million participants), and baseball (13.6 million participants). Of the 24 team sports listed, only three of them have had participation gains in the last year — ultimate Frisbee, lacrosse, and gymnastics. On the other hand, nine of them have had participation gains over the last four years — lacrosse (up 41.8%), rugby (up 37.7%), ultimate Frisbee (up 20.5%), gymnastics (up 18.6%), ice hockey (up 15.8%), beach volleyball (up 14.8%), indoor soccer (up 9.3%), fast-pitch softball (up 2.3%), and field hockey (up 1.8%).

After analyzing team sports participation patterns at the ‘core’ level, 13 of the team sports have a very dedicated participation base as more than 50% of the overall participants are actually ‘core’ participants — those who are regular or frequent participants. Those 13 team sports are baseball, basketball, cheerleading, competitive swimming, court volleyball, field hockey, ice hockey, indoor soccer, lacrosse, slow-pitch softball, tackle football, track & field, and wrestling. And three of those team sports — baseball, basketball and competitive swimming — actually have more than 60% of the overall participants listed in the ‘core’ category.

National Rankings: Most Active and Least Active States

According to this SGMA study, the states with the highest percentage of ‘active’ residents are Utah, Idaho, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Minnesota. Nearly 62% of those living in Utah are classified as being a participant in one or more high calorie-burning activities. The five states with the lowest levels of physical activity are Tennessee, New Mexico, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Mississippi. Mississippi ranks last as 32% of its population is not actively engaged in any kind of high calorie-burning activity.

Active People Plan To Vote

In this year’s study, for the first time, SGMA asked about people’s plans to vote in this year’s presidential election. The results of SGMA’s research indicates there is a direct correlation between peoples’ intentions to vote and their activity level, suggesting that those who are physically ‘active’ are also more interested in politics and the direction of the country. Of those who are ‘active,’ participants in fitness and sports are the most likely to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

Lasting Impact of Phys Ed in School

The more often children aged six to 12 have physical education at school, the more likely they are to be active during their adult years. Children who are not exposed to physical activity during early school years are less likely to be physically ‘active’ as adults.

An adult who participated in physical education at school is four times more likely to participate in a racquet sport and about three times more likely to participate in a team sport, outdoor activity, winter sport, and/or golf. All other sports measured show similar increases in activity among those who had physical education.

America’s Top Ten Sports, Fitness, & Recreational Activities

The most popular sports and activities in the U.S. — as measured by people who participate at least once a year in any given activity — continue to have a strong focus on fitness as seven out of the top ten activities are fitness-related:

Finally, in a survey of non-sports participants where they were asked which sports they would be most interested in participating, swimming, working out with weights, and bicycling were the most frequently mentioned activities.

This year’s Sports, Fitness, & Recreational Activities Participation Topline Report, the definitive source for sports participation in America, has overall participation figures for 119 sports in 14 different categories (fitness activities, equipment exercise, team sports, racquet sports, outdoor activities, fishing, winter sports, personal contact sports, indoor sports, wheeled sports, hunting, shooting sports, water sports, and other sports/activities). This is the industry’s essential reference document for sports participation. Copies of the Sports, Fitness, & Recreational Activities Participation Topline Report (2012 edition) are available from

This year’s study has been done as a joint effort of The Physical Activity Council, a collaboration of sports associations that have been doing participation research separately for a number of years: Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, Tennis Industry Association, National Golf Foundation, IHRSA, Snowsports Industries America, The Outdoor Foundation, and the United States Tennis Association.

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA), the #1 source for sport and fitness research, is the leading global trade association of manufacturers, retailers, and marketers in the sports products industry. SGMA helps lead the sports and fitness industries by promoting favorable public policies, fostering participation through research, thought leadership and product promotion. More information about SGMA membership, SGMA public policy platform, and SGMA’s National Health Through Fitness Day can be found at