I remember standing in an empty gym at the height of the pandemic,” recalled JCI Manileña president Alexandra Dayrit, a licensed fitness coach. “There was an eerie silence on the gym floor that was usually packed with happy gym-goers, the air filled with music and chatter. The floors and mirrors were dusty, but painfully, a lot were out of work.”

The same feeling inspired fitness brands from all over the world to fight for one idea: fitness is essential.

This initiative was aimed at sustaining and rebuilding economies, and strengthening workforce morale within the global fitness industry, which was one of the most badly hit industries by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This idea was championed locally by the Philippine Fitness Alliance, which JCI Manileña and Metro Manila JCI Senate expanded in their own sphere of influences.

It saw the private sector, non-government organizations and government work together in order to restart the Philippine fitness industry. While the former focused on rallying support from the media and the government, the latter encouraged the public to keep exercising to counter the detrimental health effects of the pandemic.

The author with Singapore Fitness Alliance president Sean Tan, and JCI Manileña president Alexandra Dayrit.

Statistics show the decline of the fitness industry also caused a further decline in physical activity all around the world. In 2018, WHO announced that one in every four do not meet the minimum physical activity recommendation. One per three women and one per five men are inactive. The pandemic significantly increased inactivity across all ages, pushing the 20-percent obesity WHO projection for 2025 into reality by 2022.

The pandemic also caused a spike in anxiety and depression that affects families, communities and entire countries and has long-lasting effects on the people left behind. Exercise helps solve these. It improves muscular strength, cardiorespiratory and heart health. It makes you look good and feel good, as it helps build muscle and reduce fat.

In the Philippines, big milestones for the industry included the creation of the Philippine Fitness Alliance uniting major gym operators (Anytime Fitness, Celebrity Fitness, Fitness First, Gold’s Gym, Slimmer’s World, UFC Gym) and the reopening of gyms following months of uncertainty.

Fit summit

Last June 14, a new milestone was met as the first major face-to-face FIT Summit World Health, Fitness and Wellness Festival happened in Singapore.

I was invited to speak about the future of the fitness industry and many of the lessons I learned from the big two-year pause.

The FIT Summit, held from June 13 to 15 in Raffles City Convention Center, Singapore, hosted over 2,000 business owners, managers and investors from 500 companies all over the world.

The group came together to exchange best practices to move the global fitness industry forward through a multi-day thought leadership conference, exhibition, startup showcase and awards dinner.

There were over 75 speakers covering topics on the fitness industry, mental health, consumer trends, the metaverse, future-proofing business, and much more. Every speaker agreed on one thing: they have not lost hope in fitness. In fact, all attendees left with a boost in passion and optimism for its beloved industry.

Roughly 35 percent of gyms and studios closed their doors either permanently or temporarily, while they looked for new investors or locations to reopen in. This disrupted the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people globally.

FIT Summit head Blair Campbell.

In the Philippines, many employees who had been working in the fitness industry for over 20 years had to switch careers just to get by.

Over the pandemic, the stocks for at-home fitness brands skyrocketed. When gyms reopened, they steadily declined.

Now that things are getting back to normal, the stocks are almost returning to the original point, pre-pandemic. This goes to show that consumer behavior has not permanently changed and that people are willing to go back to gyms.

In Singapore, the lockdown situation was managed very well. In fact, the Singapore Fitness Alliance inspired the Philippine Fitness Alliance on protocols and guidelines, as well as how to collaborate with the government in order to allow gyms to safely reopen.

At the summit, Singapore Fitness Alliance president Sean Tan shared our sentiments that “Fitness is essential” and spoke about how health and wellness is being redefined and given even greater value, post-pandemic. Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law of the Singapore government, spoke about strengthening Singapore as a destination for global fitness tourism. He emphasized how fitness is essential not only for health, but also for creating rich, unforgettable experiences.

“From an empty gym to an international convention stage, I stand up for the idea that fitness is essential. I invite you all to stand with me,” urged Dayrit, a summit VIP attendee. “Now that things are going back to normal, you can support the fitness community while supporting your own health by going back to your favorite gyms, studios and wellness centers to support your local businesses and staff. This will go a long way in ensuring that the fitness industry continues to grow and move towards the vision of a bright future.”

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By TerBaru