Fitness from an Economic Perspective


Health and wellness is emerging as one of the biggest industries globally. It was estimated that the industry grew 10.6% between 2013 and 2015 to reach USD 3.72 trillion, far outpacing the global economy. To put it in perspective, if the industry were an economy, it would be one of the five biggest economies in the world.

The extraordinary growth of the health and wellness industry can be largely put down to the increasing incidence of lifestyle-related diseases across the world. According to a study commissioned by the World Economic Forum in 2011, it was estimated that five health conditions- diabetes, heart diseases, cancer, mental illness and respiratory illness- would claim 52 million lives in the two decades between 2011 and 2030. Apart from the lives claimed, lifestyle-related disorders would leave an even bigger number of people unable to actively contribute to society. All included, the economic cost was estimated at a staggering USD 47 trillion for the two-decade period, nearly twice the GDP of the USA.

The good news is that the health and wellness industry is rapidly evolving in response to the challenges confronting it. Fitness facilities such as gymnasiums continue to proliferate in residential townships and workplaces, offering users excellent facilities at affordable costs by leveraging on economies of scale (a proportionate saving in costs gained by an increased volume of economic activity).

Along with gyms and dance workout classes popping up in the vicinity, the internet has made it possible to connect with skilled coaches and nutritionists, irrespective of their location. It is now possible to have a full session with a yoga instructor or dietician in another country through video conferencing. Fitness instructors and coaches even have a separate visa category and are sought after by many countries due to skill shortage.

Wearable gadgets, by themselves, are not a new phenomenon but they have improved in accuracy significantly over the recent years. Thanks to these gadgets, users are more aware of their fitness and activity levels. It is no wonder then that these devices motivate users to achieve their target by keeping a regular record of their performance. As these devices are becoming increasingly stylish and affordable, they are being accepted by both young and elderly.

Of course, all these developments have been met with a decisive shift toward healthier eating. Nutrition, as a subject, has been getting more noticed than ever. From young start-ups to large corporations with huge brands, there has been a lot of competition to come up with new products and improve prevailing ones, to get a slice of the rapidly growing business. According to a 2015 survey conducted by Nielsen among 30,000 people, 90 percent of shoppers do not hesitate to pay extra for food products if they deliver added health quality and benefits to their family.

It is significant to note that since many millennial parents are demanding healthier alternatives for their families and to match their lifestyle, even popular products have brought down their sugar levels to remain relevant in the market. Sales of carbonated drinks, such as Pepsi, have dropped by as much as 14 per cent in the last ten years, partly due to better-informed parents seeking healthier diet habits.

The idea of fitness has finally moved from purely physical one to incorporate mental well-being. With prominent sportsmen, CEOs and movie celebrities speaking more openly about personal struggles with mental ailments, there has been a lot of discussion in the media to discourage the stigma surrounding these disorders that dissuade people from seeking medical help.

A 2017 PwC report estimates that for every USD spent in developing a mentally fit office, a company reaps USD 2.30 in resulting benefits. The figures assume importance in the wake of figures released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that reveal that mental health ailments have cost the United Kingdom as much as USD 120 billion annually or about 4.5 percent of their GDP, followed by Switzerland (USD 21 billion or 3.2 percent of GDP) and Denmark (USD 8 billion or 3.4 percent of GDP).

Many healthcare experts recommend Yoga for physical and mental fitness and it has emerged as an important segment of the health and wellness industry. Introduced by Indian yoga gurus around the turn of the 20th century, it is now a very popular form of exercise in the West, where modern studios and Yoga shops promote the benefits associated with the regular practice. While the origins of yoga remain obscure, the earliest known reference to it is in the Rig Veda, the oldest extant text from ancient India, which dates to mid-second millennium BC.

As of 2013, the value of the yoga industry in the USA alone stood at an estimated USD 27 billion, with over twenty million practitioners. Along with traditional Ashtanga, Hatha, and Vinyasa yoga forms, fitness enthusiasts have come up with new ways to promote yoga as aerial yoga, hot yoga, and rope wall yoga.

To conclude, a healthy human capital is only desirable, but also essential for a thriving economy. A WHO study claims that an average 10-year surge in life expectancy at birth is linked to an upsurge in economic growth of some 0.3-0.4% a year. Asian countries such as South Korea Malaysia, China, and Thailand have been successful in improving health indicators that led to sustained economic growth.

It has been proven that health improvements led the economic heave in these countries.

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