Gym Memberships Can Improve Physical and Mental Health

Group of people exercising at the gymGyms are most crowded from January to March, when people may join to fulfill New Year’s resolutions. Research from Iowa State University published in the journal PLOS ONE suggests joining a gym can increase the likelihood of achieving fitness goals. The findings showed gym members were significantly more active than non-members.

Gym Memberships Increase Activity Levels

Researchers compared data on 204 gym members to 201 non-members from April-August 2013. Participants answered questions about exercise both in and outside of the gym, and provided measures of blood pressure, waist circumference, resting heart rate, and other measures of fitness.

Gym members got 14 times more aerobic exercise than non-gym members, and were 10 times more likely to meet guidelines for muscle-strengthening activities. Seventy-five percent of gym members met physical fitness guidelines, which recommend 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week. Only 18% of non-members met these fitness goals. People with gym memberships also had smaller waist circumferences and better cardiorespiratory fitness than non-members.

Fitness and Mental Health

A large body of research supports the link between physical activity and mental health. Highlights include:

  • A link between exercise and a reduction in depression. Three 2016 studies suggest exercise can treat and prevent depression. Another 2016 study points to the role of exercise in treating dementia-related depression.
  • Improvements in cognitive functioning associated with exercise. A 2015 study found exercise could increase neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to change in response to the environment. A 2017 study suggests a sedentary lifestyle is as likely to trigger dementia as a genetic variant.
  • Fewer mental health symptoms. A 2015 study finds exercise could help treat posttraumatic stress.
  • Better academic performance. In a 2014 study, children performed better at school when they were physically active.


  1. Kurtzleben, D. (2013, January 3). A long wait in line for the bench press. Retrieved from
  2. Schroeder, E. C., Welk, G. J., Franke, W. D., & Lee, D. (2017). Associations of health club membership with physical activity and cardiovascular health. PLOS ONE, 12(1). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0170471
  3. To improve health and exercise more, get a gym membership, Iowa State study suggests. (2017, January 23). Retrieved from

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  • Patsy

    February 3rd, 2017 at 7:52 AM

    Oh no not me. It hurts my self esteem to see all these really physically fit people doing all this crazy stuff that I know I will never be able to do. Gymtimidation?

  • Stan

    February 3rd, 2017 at 10:26 AM

    You don’t always have to go to a gym fro these benefits, much of it can be done on your own and at home. But I will say that the motivation is definitely greater if you have a trainer or gym buddy who is working out with you and who is holding you accountable.

    You might can easily lie to yourself and tell yourself that you have some other things to do but it is so much harder to tell someone who is expecting you there to work out with them the very same thing.

  • Zachary

    October 14th, 2020 at 5:59 PM

    My friend saw a couple of flyers regarding a gym that recently opened around his area. What you said about how exercise can help someone feel positive overall about themselves and what they do by giving them happy hormones is very interesting. I should suggest that he try looking for a gym that offers a free membership trial around his area.

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