156% rise in downloads of Indian health and fitness apps

Pandemic pushes fitness freaks to digital fitness apps

Business

October 13, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

156% rise in downloads of Indian health and fitness apps

Several gyms across the country were forced to close due to a major decline in memberships during the pandemic. (Photo: Risen Wang/Unsplash)

As the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closures of gyms across the country, fitness enthusiasts as well as those looking to begin their workout journeys tried to replicate the gym experience in the comfort of their own homes, using the assistance of virtual trainers and digital health and fitness apps with a personally curated diet and exercise plans to suit every individual’s need.

With the start of the Covid-19 induced, nationwide lockdown in March 2020, thousands of gyms and sports complexes across India were forced to shut down, some for as long as six months without relief in the worst-affected cities. Even as lockdown restrictions were slowly being lifted, these facilities received the lowest priority, both from the government and clients unwilling to possibly contract the disease in such a high-risk environment. Thus, India’s fitness industry, which was estimated to be valued at about USD 12 billion in 2018, suffered a huge slump. Although a recent estimate is unavailable, in April of this year, nearly 30 pc of gyms in Delhi were reported to have remained shut, even after they had been permitted to reopen.

Major players in the industry such as Gold’s Gym, which reportedly had to shut down ten of their centres in India by 2021, and smaller gym owners who incurred losses of INR 2-3 million during the first and second wave, were compelled to close their businesses due to a major decline in memberships.

But while the gyms suffered, the fitness industry received a huge boost elsewhere, as 2020 saw a whopping 71,000 new fitness apps launched globally, a 13 pc increase from 2019, according to a report by mobile data and analytics provider App Annie. There was also a 46 pc increase in the number of downloads of health and fitness apps between the first and second half of 2020, and in India, which had one of the longest and most strict lockdowns in the world, the increase was the highest, at a staggering 156 pc, or 58 million new users in the country. With 1.3 billion people suddenly confined to their houses, it may not come as a surprise that such a large section of Indians took to workouts at home as a way to pass the time and to stay fit.

In 2020, 21-year-old New Delhi resident Kriti Chawla had to move back home from college and like many, she decided to make use of the extra time for a “glow-up.”

“I realised didn’t have much to do for 3 months, so initially I started workouts I found online, and eventually I picked it up with Crush India Fitness First and I have been working out for almost a year now, using apps and online trainers a couple of times a week,” Chawla tells Media India Group.

As gyms were closed, many staff and especially trainers reported being let go or put on unpaid leave, but for some who had loyal clientele, the transition to online workouts was quite easy. Bharat Sadana, a Noida-based personal trainer who was involved in creating the preliminary workout programmes on the Crush Fitness app and provides virtual gym sessions to people at home or with personal gyms, had a significant upsurge in the number of clients he worked with after lockdown began.

“During the lockdowns, people gained a lot of weight, so they approached us to work out from home since they were not able to go the gym. And once you start, the process is very easy,” says Sadana.

HealthifyMe, a leading Indian health and fitness app, alone observed an increase of 5 million users during the pandemic. Sadana says the boom was particularly evident in India because the fitness industry has only recently started gaining traction in the country.

“These apps may not be extremely useful for bodybuilders or people who have already been working out for many years, but it is a great starting point for many beginners. And many Indians are not aware about the science behind weight loss, things like calorie counting – how many calories in an egg or a toast, so for them, it is very helpful,” Sadana tells Media India Group.

The “calorie-counting” feature of such apps, in addition to having carefully curated, personalised workout plans, is what has attracted so many users to this platform. As most of these apps are free of cost, it saves clients thousands of rupees on a personal nutritionist or dietician. Apps made in India such as HealthifyMe and Fittr have large databases specifically for Indian dishes like dal (lentils) and curries, to help users keep track of their diet plans.

“I think it is really nice that there are apps like HealthifyMe which are made for us, because when I tried to use CalorieCounter or MyFitness pal, they only have western dishes, like pasta and sandwiches or just really limited options. So that’s a really useful feature because in addition to workouts, it monitors your fats, carbohydrate, fibre intake of the day,” explains Chawla.

Future of digital fitness

As Covid-19 cases now continue to decline, it is uncertain whether digital healthcare technologies will truly change the map of the fitness industry. For example, Chawla admits that an app or even an online personal trainer is not a perfect replacement for a physical activity like exercise or weight lifting.

“At first, it wasn’t hard because you start with just cardio exercises. The problem is when you start strength training; you need somebody to be there in case your posture is not right, or to spot you in case of an injury. At the end of the day, a trainer in person would be so much better because their focus would be on you and you can just call them anytime you need. Even when you ask over Zoom, or look at a pre-recorded demonstration on an app, you can never be sure you’re doing it correctly, unlike when someone is physically showing you,” she says.

However, Sadana explains that for some people, the benefits may outweigh the disadvantages of working out without a trainer, especially for those who enjoy the freedom of working from home and setting their own hours and spaces.

“Every gym is open right now, but still many customers prefer working out online. There were definitely a few clients who left to go to the gym and give up online workouts, but about 60-70 pc of our clients have stayed and want to continue working with us. Going to the gym is a task. It may be important for those who want to build up muscles and focus on bench-pressing 50-100 kg, but for someone who just wants to reach a good fitness level and build their stamina with basic cardio, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts, they prefer working out at home. For example if they are very busy with work, while a trip to the gym, getting ready, meeting up with people may take up time, a home workout can save you an hour easily, and you can do it anywhere, even next to your laptop in case of an urgent meeting, so it is very convenient,” he says.

Throughout the pandemic, fitness apps in India also witnessed the largest rise in daily active users (DAUs) with an 84 pc increase or 12 million new users. This indicates that the fitness apps were actually being used everyday, rather than simply being downloaded and then abandoned. Moreover, fitness equipment sales have witnessed a huge uptick in sales during the lockdowns as fitness enthusiasts attempted to upscale their home gyms with exercise bikes, treadmills and rowing machines. For example, globally, fitness equipment sales increased by 170 pc and India-based fitness brand Grand Slam Fitness reported a 229 pc rise in searches for home gym equipment generated on e-commerce platform IndiaMart. Such data have led some experts to believe that digital fitness may have found a strong foothold in the country which will stay even after the threat of Covid-19 abates.

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