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Despite COVID-19 Restrictions, People Stayed Active in 2020 — Here’s What They Were Doing to Stay Fit

Despite restrictions imposed due to COVID-19, people found ways to stay active throughout 2020.

According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s “State of the Industry” report, 229.7 million people in the U.S. were active in 2020, with a participation rate of 75.6%. This is up from 2019, which saw 221.6 million people active with a 73.2% rate. The number also trumps the rate five years ago, of 214.3 million active Americans with a 72.9% participation rate.

What’s more, the SFIA report revealed a decline in total inactive Americans in 2020. Last year, there were 74.3 million inactive people in the U.S., with a 42.4% inactivity rate. This is down from 2019, which saw 81.2 million people inactive with a 26.8% inactivity rate.

The reasoning behind these shifts, the report stated, related to pandemic restrictions on “traditional lifestyle and leisure time decisions.”

Despite the increases in activity, the report noted Americans on the whole gained weight during the pandemic. Also, SFIA stated that the lifestyle changes and restrictions took away “the engagement and imposed discipline to be active through team sports, group activities and fitness clubs,” and many who were previously involved in these suffered overall decreases in activity levels during 2020.

In terms of what people were engaging in, the report revealed outdoor activities and racquet sports experienced the largest pandemic increases. 

Specifically for outdoor sports, walking for fitness and hiking were No. 1 and 2, respectively, on the top 25 list of sports and activities by participants in 2020. For walking, there were roughly 114 million participants, representing a 2.3% increase over 2019. As for hiking, there were 57.8 million participants last year, a 16.3% change over the year prior. 

The overall outdoor sports participation rate, according to the SFIA report, was 52.9% in 2020, a climb from the 48.4% mark in 2015.

The growth of hiking participation should come as no surprise, as boot sales throughout the pandemic have climbed.

During a presentation last month by The NPD Group Inc. at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Denver, the firm’s senior sports industry adviser, Matt Powell, detailed the categories with strong double-digit growth, which included hiking and trekking footwear. According to NPD data, for the 12 months ended May 2021, sales in the category grew 20% over the same mark in 2019, with an increase of $53 million.

NPD also revealed the top-selling outdoor items in the U.S. based on dollars sold, tracking the athletic specialty retail, sporting goods, outdoor specialty and sports specialty e-commerce channels.

Its data revealed Merrell had three of the top 10 best-selling hiking/trekking shoes for the 12 months ending May 2021, including the No. 1 seller: the Moab 2 Mid WP that had an average price of $128. The other Merrell styles in the top 10 include the Moab 2 WP Low ($116), which came in at No. 5, and the Moab 2 Vent ($95), coming in at No. 6.

Boots from other brands topping the best-seller list were the Keen Targhee 3 Mid WP ($137), the Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX ($150) and the Timberland Mt. Maddsen Mid WP ($96).

The walking boom should also come as no surprise. A study conducted in late March by Rockport and First Insight found that more than half of Americans (53%) are now walking 1 to 5 miles more each day than they did pre-pandemic. And they seemingly have developed a regular habit, with 36% walking at least 1 to 2 miles and 21% walking 3 to 4 miles daily.

And in the fourth quarter of 2020, retail sales for walking footwear grew in the low single digits, according to The NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service.

Other popular outdoor activities to crack the top 10 in SFIA’s report about 2020 were running/jogging (50.7 million participants), bicycling (44.5 million), fishing (42.6 million) and camping (36.1 million). 

As for racquet sports, tennis and table tennis experienced big gains. Tennis, which came in at No. 20  on the top 25 list, saw 21.6 million participants in 2020, representing a 22.4% increase over 2019. And table tennis, which secured the No. 23 spot, had 16.9 million participants, a gain of 13.1% over the year prior. 

Some of the aforementioned sports and activities were also among the fastest growing for the year. Camping secured the No. 3 spot on the top 25 fastest-growing sports and activities list for 2020, with a one-year change in participation of 28%. Meanwhile, tennis came in at No. 4, hiking at No. 7 and table tennis at No. 10.

Skateboarding and surfing saw the biggest percentage gains in 2020, with one-year increases of 34.2% and 28.2%, respectively.

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