The IHRSA Foundation 2021 Annual Report

In 2021, the IHRSA Foundation focused on projects addressing mental health and well-being in fitness centers and expanding access to physical activity. This annual report highlights 2021 activities and discusses future IHRSA Foundation initiatives.

The IHRSA Foundation was founded with the mission to promote health through exercise by expanding education and resources, research, and engagement. In 2021, the IHRSA Foundation continued the important work of making physical activity—specifically fitness center-based physical activity—more accessible with projects involving disability inclusion, mental health, behavioral research, and awareness.

The health and fitness industry has a crucial role to play in supporting physical and mental health and well-being by providing a safe, positive community for consumers to engage in physical activity and exercise. IHRSA and the IHRSA Foundation are proud to support projects and initiatives that promote the critical role physically active lifestyles play in improving our overall health. The health and fitness industry is also a powerful tool to combat the mental health-related issues exacerbated by the pandemic.

Along with improving global mental health and wellness, increasing physical activity levels can benefit worldwide health by mitigating long-term social and economic costs. Research shows that the world could achieve extensive health and economic benefits if more people exercised more often.

Supporting Mental Health & Well-being in Fitness Centers

In July 2021, the IHRSA Foundation was awarded $54,400 by the John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation to provide a mental health education and an awareness campaign targeting fitness industry professionals. The project includes three components:

  1. An assessment to show fitness industry professionals’ current knowledge, skills, and practices around addressing mental health in fitness centers.

  2. The development of educational resources to support and assist fitness industry professionals while addressing mental health.

  3. An awareness campaign—spanning social media, online communications, and in-person events—for health clubs and fitness professionals committed to addressing mental health in the fitness space.

In November and December 2021, the initial assessment survey circulated via email and social media. A total of 701 fitness industry professionals responded to the survey.

Further updates on this project are included below in the discussion of 2022 projects.

Building Capacity to Expand Inclusion of People With Intellectual Disabilities in Fitness

In June 2021, the IHRSA Foundation completed the Special Olympics Inclusive Health Innovation Grant project started in 2020 and published a compilation of resources developed by the IHRSA Foundation and sourced from partnering organizations. The resources include:

  • Strategies to Expand Inclusion of People with Intellectual Disabilities in the Fitness Community, a toolkit for health clubs and fitness professionals

  • SMASH IT!, an inclusive small group training program template and training videos

  • Perspectives of People with Intellectual Disabilities on Gyms and Gym-based Programs, a survey report from over 300 people with intellectual disabilities

  • Special Olympics Fitness Assessment Tools, created to help fitness club operators assess and track progress

  • Special Olympics Inclusive Fitness Training, a course available through the American Council on Exercise (ACE)

  • 10 Ideas for Implementing Inclusive Practices in Your Club, an e-book for health clubs that want to be more inclusive

A Data-driven Approach to Promote Behavior Change

In 2021, the IHRSA Foundation and ClearView Insights developed and tested messaging designed to promote behavior change, specifically greater engagement in physical activity. We used paid social media advertising to test the messaging by targeting the 80% of the population not currently exercising in a health club or fitness studio. Additionally, several IHRSA members tested messaging targeting existing fitness center users via company social media channels.

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The results of the testing suggest that messages relaying the positive impact of fitness on mental well-being resonated well with both existing and non-gym members. Specifically, consumers recognized an “instant gratification” effect exercise has on mood.

Since this research concluded, findings from the research project have been shared with the industry so clubs or studios could adapt insights from the project in their marketing and communications. Discussions related to the findings occurred at:

  • an online Town Hall,

  • education sessions and a Think Tank at IHRSA 2021,

  • a Global Health & Fitness Alliance (GHFA) Think Tank,

  • an interview on the Fitness Business Podcast,

  • articles in CBI magazine, and

  • promotion in IHRSA email newsletters and social media.

Multiple health clubs and studio companies have adapted these findings into their marketing campaigns.

IHRSA and the IHRSA Foundation are currently exploring launching a global, month-long, industry-wide campaign in late 2022 using the findings from this research.

Supporting Faith Leaders in Modeling & Facilitating Healthy Behavior Change

Beginning in early 2021, the IHRSA Foundation collaborated with the Caritate Life Enhancement Foundation and Victory Outreach Reno to conduct a survey of church leaders in predominately Hispanic and Latin American communities. The survey’s goal was to assess current knowledge and readiness of church leaders to support and facilitate healthy behavior change among their congregations.

Members of Victory Outreach Church based in the U.S. received the survey in Spanish and English. A total of 60 church leaders completed the survey.

The Caritate Life Enhancement Foundation and Victory Outreach Reno obtained key findings from the survey. These include:

  1. Knowledge and awareness are significant issues to address, with barriers around knowledge, awareness, and confidence ranking among the top 5.

  2. Educating church leaders is a good starting point. According to the survey, over a third of respondents ranked “health, fitness, and wellness education for yourself” among the top 3 things most needed to improve health and wellness among their populations.

  3. Churches are interested in working with fitness centers. Many organizations already work with community partners, including 26% of respondents who reported working with recreation centers. Additionally, access to or collaboration with a facility was the ​​need most commonly chosen among the top 3.

ABC Consumer Survey

The IHRSA Foundation, in collaboration with ABC Fitness Solutions, conducted a consumer study to understand underlying motivations and barriers to physical activity. In June 2021, ClubIntel received and analyzed survey results.

Key findings from the study are available in the e-book, The Next Fitness Consumer: 10 Key Findings.

Financial Recap

The IHRSA Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity and generates revenue from:

  • individual donations,

  • sponsorship,

  • ticket revenue to the annual reception at the IHRSA Convention,

  • grants, and

  • Amazon Smile.

Additionally, beginning in January 2021, IHRSA pledged to donate 1% of all revenue to the IHRSA Foundation as well as provide support through in-kind contributions, including time, staff, and facility resources.

IHRSA financial contribution to the IHRSA Foundation will be available once IHRSA’s annual financial audit is complete.

In its 2021 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, 2021, IHRSA received $33,000 in grants and $60,219 in individual donations for a total of $93,219.

New Governance

As part of IHRSA’s transformation and revival, new members will be appointed to the IHRSA Foundation Board of Directors. These new board members will be announced in June 2022 and will begin serving their terms as members of the IHRSA Foundation Board of Directors in July 2022.

The new board members will:

  • help provide strategic oversight to IHRSA Foundation activities and projects,

  • serve as ambassadors to promote the IHRSA Foundation,

  • assist with fundraising, and

  • provide insight regarding the future of the health and fitness industry.

Continued Work on Existing Projects: Supporting Mental Health & Well-being in Fitness Centers

In February 2022, the IHRSA Foundation published key findings and takeaways from the 2021 assessment survey in the e-book, Perspectives on Supporting Mental Health & Well-Being in Health & Fitness Facilities: A Survey of Fitness Professionals.

Drawing on results from the assessment survey, current research, and industry best practices, the IHRSA Foundation published, Supporting Mental Health & Well-being: A Toolkit for Health & Fitness Centers, in February 2022. The toolkit covers:

  • current perspectives of fitness industry professionals around addressing mental health in the fitness space,

  • opportunities for the industry to address mental health and well-being,

  • the latest evidence on the benefits of physical activity and exercise for mental health, and

  • examples from leaders in the industry who successfully address mental health in their fitness business.

An extensive social media campaign has helped promote these resources and raised awareness of the role that health clubs and fitness studios can play in addressing mental wellness.

A follow-up survey was sent out via email in May 2022 to respondents to the baseline survey, and the follow-up survey analysis and reports will be complete by June 30, 2022.

New Projects

IHRSA Foundation staff and consultants are exploring new projects and opportunities for 2022 and beyond. Projects under development include:

  1. A research study to examine the impact of facility-based, structured exercise programming on mental health—e.g., assessment of mood before and after group exercise classes.

  2. A project to build the health and fitness industry’s capacity to improve the quality of life for people with physical limitations due to neurodegenerative disorders, such as ALS or Parkinson’s disease.

  3. A long-term study researching the value-added impact of facility-based physical activity (compared with independent physical activity) on behavior change and health outcomes.

New Fundraising Opportunities

At the 2022 IHRSA International Convention & Trade Show we were are pleased to continue our partnership with Augie’s Quest to Cure ALS and introduce a 50/50 Raffle as a fundraiser for both organizations. The winner will receive 50% of the total funds raised*, and the remaining funds will be split evenly between Augie’s Quest and the IHRSA Foundation.

For more information about the IHRSA Foundation and updates on ongoing projects, visit

*A 7.5% percentage fee will be subtracted from the attendee’s winnings for Rally Up services and credit card processing fees

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HFA Staff @HealthFitAssoc

This article was a team effort by several HFA experts.