This second report from the EuropeActive Research Centre evaluates the extent to which gyms and leisure centres continue to provide a safe environment for physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. From a total sample of more than 185.8 million visits in 9 countries across the health and fitness sector from mainland Europe and the UK, reported COVID-19 cases were examined against the number of visits in 2021. Research and evaluation teams from universities in Spain and the UK and the ukactive Research Institute collaborated for this evaluation. The result: the reported incidence rate of positive COVID-19 cases was 0.88 cases per 100 000 visits in 3,043 health clubs and leisure centres.
The data came from two independent databases: first, from all of continental Europe, representing 59.5 million visits from 8 countries. They were collected directly by researchers from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos and Sheffield Hallam University during the open season from 4 January to 3 October. Furthermore, the data collected from England during the open operating period from 12 April to 21 November is provided by the ukactive research institute. The results are consistent with findings from public health sources and so the data suggests that health clubs and leisure centres (where industry standard safeguards are in place) continue to provide safe public spaces for exercise.
The report also provides a brief update on recent studies demonstrating the protective effect of physical activity and exercise against COVID-19 and concludes that, according to the available data, sustained inactivity is a stronger risk factor for severe COVID-19 disease than all of the underlying diseases and risk factors identified by CDC except age and organ transplant history. In fact, physical inactivity was the strongest risk factor compared to commonly cited risk factors such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Furthermore, the report addresses the positive impact of physical activity on the economy. This was highlighted by Hafner et al. (2020) in a novel study that assessed the economic benefits of increased physical activity on a global scale for the next 30 years. The study concludes that increasing the physical activity of the global population to the lower threshold of the WHO guidelines is estimated to contribute up to USD 8.6 trillion to the global economy by 2050 (in 2019 prices). This suggests potential economic benefits from physical activity interventions, particularly in high-income countries with currently lower levels of physical activity.