Aim: Maximizing the health benefits associated with reducing inactivity levels requires an understanding of the individual and environmental determinants of physical activity. Membership in a fitness facility promotes physical activity, yet little is known of its relationship to health. The purpose of this study was to compare physical activity levels, and health status, behaviours, and beliefs, in members of a fitness centre, and non-member community residents.
Methods: Using a cross-sectional design, fitness centre members (n=236) and non-members (n=302) were compared with respect to perceived health status, use of health care services, fitness status, physical activity level, perceived control over health, and the likelihood of engaging in health promoting behaviours, using The Health-Promoting Lifestyle Profile. Questionnaires were mailed to adult members of a fitness centre, and a stratified (age, sex) sample of non-members randomly selected from the local community.
Results: Fitness centre members were more likely than the comparison group to have visited a general physician, dentist, athletic therapist, optometrist, or nutritionist during the previous year (p<0.05), to exercise regularly, and to rate their physical fitness as very fit. They scored significantly higher on the overall health promoting lifestyle score (p=0.0353) as well as on health responsibility (p=0.0053), exercise (p=0.0001), and nutrition (p=0.0166) subscales, even after adjusting for differences in activity levels between groups.
Conclusions: Fitness centre membership is associated with increased health responsibility and health promoting behaviours. This finding appears to be related to membership in the fitness centre, and not to increased participation in physical activity.