The potential health and economic impact of gym usage in Belgium

25 january 2022

In spite of an abundance of scientific evidence for the health benefits related to physical activity (PA), the health economic impact of gym usage has not been fully described. The lack of objective, quantifiable data on the health and budget impact of fitness may have been a contributing factor in the prolonged forced closures of Belgian fitness centers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Policy makers were forced to make tough decisions to prevent the coronavirus sars-cov-2 from spreading. The fitness industry was particularly affected.

Project Highlights

  • Customer:
  • In partnership with: VUB
  • Main Goal: Assess the health and economic impact of gym usage in Belgium
  • Main Result: A literature review, health-economic model, public-facing report and dissemination through a webinar and a series of short video clips.
  • Date: August 2021 – January 2022

About is the working name of the Belgian Fitness Organization which mainly offers socio-economic support, training and further education. Its main goal is advocacy, service and communication linked to a structured pursuit of a professional and quality fitness sector. seeks to position the fitness sector as a fully-fledged economic entity within preventive healthcare.


The overall aim of this project was to assess the health and economic impact of physical activity performed in gym clubs taking into account the medical and psychosocial wellbeing of the Belgian gym users. In addition, the impact of a nationwide closure of the Belgian gym clubs can be estimated from its estimated impact on short and long-term reduced physical activity.


Alongside Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Hict conducted a literature review and a health economic analysis to quantify the long-term impact of fitness, as well as the impact of temporary closure.

Case fitness be visual 1

First phase: Rapid literature review

The literature search leveraged Hict’s rapid literature review methodology, that is designed to quickly identify relevant literature using a combination of structured search and pragmatic results processing.

Second phase: health-economic modelling

We leveraged an existing prevention model, developed by the Interuniversity Centre for Health Economics Research (collaboration between Ghent University and Vrije Universiteit Brussel), to model the long-term preventive effect of physical activity, in terms of a reduced incidence of chronic diseases and the resulting reduced medical costs and mortality, improved quality of life, and reduced productivity losses (fig).

Additionally, all outcomes were expressed in monetary terms. Results of these type of analyses are often expressed in terms of costs per QALY (in other words without monetarizing QALYs), which is highly relevant for comparisons within the healthcare sector. However, as the consequences of the global pandemic caused by Covid-19 were not limited to the healthcare sector, a monetary outcome allows cross-sector comparisons.

Case fitness be visual 3
Case fitness be visual 2

The rapid literature review showed that many of the relations for which data will be needed to populate a health-economic model are well-established in the literature, in particular:

  • The associations between physical activity and development of chronic diseases, as well as mortality;
  • The clear association between chronic diseases and relevant health and economic outcomes such as quality of life, medical costs and absenteeism


  • Our health-economic model demonstrates that over a period of 15 years, gym usage has the potential to create a net monetary benefit of € 5121 per gym participant. This means that gym membership costs (for a period of 15 years estimated at € 5164), are almost fully recovered by the health and economic gains
  • Extrapolated over 1.4 million gym participants in Belgium, the net monetary benefit of gym usage (vs. an insufficiently active lifestyle) is estimated at almost € 7.2 billion
  • A temporary closure could reduce the net monetary benefit with € 456 per individual or € 637 million for all Belgian gym participants


Our results are relevant for the fitness sector, the general public and for policy makers. Hence, we also aimed for a broad outreach including stakeholder outreach materials and shorter video content made specifically for social media channels.

Stakeholder outreach materials developed from this project are:

  • A public facing report
  • A 15-minute webinar

Read the report Watch the webinar

Watch our project videos below

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