Americans continue to engage in a wide range of physical activities but with less regularity than in previous years, according to the 2018 SFIA Topline Participation Report.

Casual participation is growing, while core participation is declining, according to the Topline Report, which also identifies several categories of growth across team sports, individual sports, fitness activities and outdoor sports, measuring participation in more than 100 activities in a national, representative survey of Americans aged 6 and older.

“It’s fascinating to explore the changes in the way Americans recreate,” said Tom Cove, SFIA president and CEO. “While there continue to be millions of Americans who are hardcore fitness fanatics and sports nuts, even more of us are evolving in our activity and leisure time choices, and this report helps us understand the specifics of what is happening in our families, communities and society.”

Fitness activities continue to represent the highest rates of participation, led by walking for fitness, treadmill, free weights and stationary cycling. Running/jogging bounced back very strongly after a decline seen in recent years, registering 7.1 percent annual growth to more than 50 million participants. Several smaller categories indicated growth, as well, including cross-training style workouts, rowing machines and kettlebells. Other lifestyle activities, such as camping, hiking and skiing, also registered healthy increases. This supports another insight from SFIA research that spending time with friends and family is one of the highest motivations to encourage Americans to be active.

Among team sports, baseball continued its recent resurgence, achieving 6 percent overall growth, led by double digit growth in casual participation. Basketball and flag football casual participation rates grew 14.1 percent and 9.9 percent, respectively. As SFIA predicted, 2017 reflected a negative “Olympic Bounce” for several sports, including gymnastics, swimming on a team and beach volleyball. After participation surged in these high-profile sports during the 2016 Summer Olympic year, participation returned to traditional, “pre-Rio” levels in 2017. Industry experts refer to this trend as “taking two steps forward and one step back.”

Several niche sports and activities showed strong growth, led by rugby, BMX bicycling and pickleball, which experienced an 11.3 percent increase in 2017.

The report also analyzes societal activity trends, such as participation by gender, generation, income and aspirational interests.

“SFIA remains fully committed to influencing the national conversation about creating a culture of physical activity in our country,” Cove said. “Our country will be better when more of our citizens are active and healthy – better academically, economically, militarily and socially. We need to understand the motivations and barriers to being active, and take decisive steps to address them.”

The Topline Report is free to SFIA members and available to the public for purchase here.

Photo courtesy SFIA