Of all the things we’re doing more, outdoor exercise seems to be helping our mental state most significantly. Being outdoors is the activity most likely to decrease anxiety, and is a top driver of motivation, relaxation and feelings of well-being. Nearly 1-in-3 Americans report increasing their amount of outdoor exercise over the past month. Additionally, 27% report increasing the frequency of offline home-based workouts. This has led to what GQ refers to as ‘The Great Kettle Bell Shortage of 2020’ – equipment for at-home fitness activities is increasingly difficult to find online.

Virtual fitness classes have proliferated during this time of ‘stay at home’. There are offerings for all ages – from kids-focused Cosmic Yoga to free CorePower Yoga for adults – and abilities – from Planet Fitness “no judgement” Facebook-based workouts to Barry’s Bootcamp High Intensity workouts on Instagram Live. This trend has also helped fitness-based brands like Peloton, that offers a variety of on-demand workouts, outperform the S&P in recent weeks and to see a surge in online searches for the brand. 18-44 yo are most likely to engage in virtual workouts (31% are engaging more), with rates of participation highest among the more affluent American’s (27% of those with HHI of $100K+ are engaging more) and among parents with children at home (31% are engaging more).

Both online and offline physical activity fuel feelings of hopefulness, relaxation, and a general sense of well-being. Tech-based workouts have the added benefit of also helping to improve participants’ sense of connection more than offline fitness behaviors. Additionally, these workouts are easy to access for most; only 6% report any tech-based issue with doing a virtual workout.

There is a trade-off– virtual workouts can also increase anxiety. As the New York Times reported, “Maggie Schuman, 32, is facing that very quandary now that her family is taking part in a Peloton challenge through the workout platform’s app. “Every day everyone sends around a green check mark, and for some reason, now that I have that in my head of this thing I’m supposed to be doing, I’m not doing it…I feel a bit like a failure.”

If fitness companies can find a way to provide an anxiety-free (or anxiety-limiting) experience, there is strong opportunity for brands to have a meaningful impact in this moment. In addition to the fact that physical activity is one of the few things making people feel better right now, stay-at-home orders will likely extend for several more weeks, and even after they are lifted, a large proportion of gym-goers are unlikely to return to gyms immediately (only 55% indicate they would go back within 3 months). Given these factors, there is a window for brands to help users forge new home-based habits and to help make their products and services ‘sticky’.

Additionally, many fitness brands are stepping up to help fill needs around Covid-19. For example, brands like Under Armour and New Balance have shifted production to manufacture masks, and brands like Fitbit Premium and Nike Training Club are offering previously-paid services and experiences for free. A majority of Americans say these types of efforts positively impact their perception of the brands.


This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll from March 6-8, 2020 among 2,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact [email protected].


Amber Broughton

Managing Director

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