Long-term members’ use of fitness centers: a qualitative study
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Background Although the health benefits of physical activity are well documented, a large proportion of the population remains less active than recommended by current guidelines. Commercial fitness centers provide an opportunity to perform physical activity and exercise, but there has been little research focusing on ordinary members at commercial fitness centers. The aim of this study was therefore to explore what long-term members (> 2 years) wanted to achieve with their membership and to identify important factors that influenced them to use the fitness center as a means for physical activity. Method This was a qualitative study with 21 semi-structured individual interviews of adult long-term fitness center members in Trondheim, a city in Central Norway with approximately 190,000 inhabitants. The participants had been continuous fitness center members for more than two years and were asked about their experiences using a fitness center and what they wanted to achieve with the membership. The data was analyzed thematically with the method of systematic text condensation. Results The results were categorized into three main themes: “Health benefits and physical appearance”; “Accessible, safe, and comfortable to use”; and “Variety, flexibility, and support.” The participants stated that they wanted to achieve health benefits, but they also talked about physical appearance. The fitness center was mainly described as easily accessible and a comfortable place for physical activity. Some female participants emphasized the feeling of safety compared to outdoor activity. Variation in activities, making commitments, and getting support from staff and other members were factors contributing to use of the fitness center for physical activity. Conclusion Achieving desired health benefits and improving physical appearance were the main drivers for long-term members’ use of the fitness center. The fitness center was preferred due to the comfort of the facilities and the possibility to commit to specific exercise times and activities.