The rich are getting fitter while the poor are falling behind.
Early on weekday mornings, I often find myself panting and sweating beside strangers in a dark room. Riding stationary bicycles with nightclub music blaring in my ears isn’t my idea of fun. But I turned to Flywheel’s spinning classes after the YMCA next to my office shut down, and now I’m hooked.
The draws for me are the ruthless efficiency of 45 minutes of grinding interval work and the fitness returns — running is a lot easier since I started spinning. The studio is also just a short walk from my house.
Lately, though, I’ve been questioning my reliance on this luxury studio, and wondering what exclusive gyms like Flywheel and SoulCycle mean for America’s epidemic of physical inactivity.
These questions have forced me to reckon with two diverging trends in American exercise. On the one hand, new cycling, spinning, yoga, barre, and CrossFit facilities are popping up in cities all over the US, and now make up about 35 percent of the US exercise market, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). The fitness industry overall generated $25.8 billion in revenue in 2015, up from $20.3 billion in 2010. Much of that growth is coming from these newer boutique facilities: membership at studios like Flywheel and SoulCycle exploded by 70 percent.
But here’s the rub: Higher-income Americans who can afford to join these places are not the group that most needs more exercise opportunities. According to the American Time Use Survey from 2015, the poorest quartile of the population gets about half the exercise of the wealthiest quartile:
If you look at the trends over time, that gap is at best persistent, and at worst widening: