We Are All Making Fitness Way Too Complex

There’s a simpler — and better — way

Brad Stulberg
Elemental
Published in
3 min readSep 30, 2021

--

A recent report from the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit focused on research in preventative health and wellness, found that Americans spent $264.6 billion dollars on physical activity in 2018, far more than any other nation. The United States leads the world in spending for every segment, including fitness classes ($37 billion), sports and recreation ($58 billion), apparel and footwear ($117 billion), equipment and supplies ($37.5 billion), mindful movement, such as yoga ($10 billion), and related technology ($8.1 billion).

And yet. And yet…

According to the academic journal The Lancet, for all of this spending, we rank 143rd globally for actual participation in physical activity. More than 40% of Americans fail to meet the global standard of 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity (for example, fast-paced walking or gardening) or 75 minutes per week of intense physical activity (for example, running or strength training).

This data largely mirrors what we know about health care. The U.S. spends, by far, the most money of any developed nation on health care per person but ranks toward the bottom (if not last) on common measures of actual health, such as chronic disease, life expectancy, infant mortality, disability, and drug-related deaths. This is not surprising, given that insufficient physical activity, along with poor diet, is the second leading cause of preventable death, only behind smoking.

Underlying causes

The Global Wellness Institute listed a few causes for the discrepancy between dollars spent on physical activity in the our country and actual participation: we don’t have enough sidewalks or bike lanes, youth sports have become too expensive and hypercompetitive, we lack a supportive and communal exercise culture.

In addition, the health and fitness industry has become obsessed with complexity. Sometimes this is warranted, but often it’s not. One reason people make things complex is so they can sell them. It’s hard to monetize the basics, but come up with an intricate and sexy-sounding approach to something and people will pay for it. So why are so many of us willing to fork over cash for often…

--

--

Brad Stulberg
Elemental

Bestselling author of Master of Change and The Practice of Groundedness