Millennials are still health and fitness trendsetters

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Sarah Marion, PhD, director of syndicated research for Murphy Research hones in on Millennials, a generation that is driving current fitness and nutraceutical trends.

 Photo © AdobeStock.com/Bangkok Click Studio

Photo © AdobeStock.com/Bangkok Click Studio

Millennials still outspend Gen Z

The nutrition industry is rightly interested in understanding the fitness behaviors of Gen Z – today’s teens and young adults aged 12-27. This generation is fast becoming major fitness consumers in their own right. However, as much attention as we’re giving Gen Z, the fact is that Millennials (currently aged 28-43 in 2024) still consistently outspend Gen Z in both nutrition and fitness, and they haven’t reached peak earning power yet. There are also simply a lot of them. The children of Baby Boomers, Millennials are a big generation, which is part of why they’re so influential. And they still are dedicated to wellness and willing to put major time, money, and energy into their fitness habits. Put simply, Millennials are still driving fitness trends, even as the oldest ones approach middle age.

If that wasn’t enough, Millennials are much more consistent exercisers than Gen Z, who have quite large seasonal swings in their fitness engagement, even after they hit adulthood. Speaking generally, Millennials are now in a life stage that is more stable than that of their Gen Z counterparts. If we’re talking about who has the highest rates of gym membership, health wearable usage, online fitness engagement, and home gym equipment ownership, we’re talking about Millennials. And if you need one more reason to keep Millennials on your radar, Gen Z seem to be adopting Millennials’ approach to fitness, nutrition, and supplements.

Millennials like to work out with others, but prioritize consistency and convenience

Millennials are still young, and it shows in their fitness and sports activities. For Millennials, a workout often means a high intensity sweat session: running, basketball, football, and soccer are all in their top ten activities, and far fewer rely on walking as their primary fitness activity relative to the next oldest generation, Gen X. Weight training, swimming, hiking, and yoga are also popular. Gen Z only edge them out in running and basketball.

Millennials continue to enjoy group fitness and the “tribe mentality” that a team creates, but they balance this with a desire for regular exercise that they can fit into their busy lives. Having fun is a top workout criterion, and they value being self-directed much less than older generations. One quarter of Millennials report playing an organized sport at least weekly, and the same number do group fitness classes. However, being with others isn’t the primary driver of Millennial fitness habits, as it is for a large percentage of Gen Z. Millennials value fitness in its own right, using it as a stress reliever, weight management tool, and simply “me time.” They’re the most likely generation to regularly engage with fitness online, including online workout videos, smart home gym equipment, and workout apps. They also workout at home in large numbers – often guided by an app.

This is likely because Millennials are in a highly time-starved stage of life. Most are in their thirties, building their careers while establishing and caring for young families. The majority of Millennial moms work, and time and external demands from family and career are key fitness barriers for both Millennial men and women. They seek convenience in order to remain consistent, a need that online fitness solves.

Millennial men put fitness first, while women put family first

Millennial men have the highest engagement with fitness and the highest fitness spending of any group. They view their health and wellness goals as helping them take care of their families – putting their own oxygen masks on first, as it were. This makes fitness worthy of their time. Millennial women, on the other hand, are more likely to say that they prioritize their family’s needs over their own health goals. As a result, Millennial men are much more likely to exercise than Millennial women, and the gap between them is larger than any other age group. But Millennial women are still very active compared to women of other generations, and they grade themselves quite harshly on fitness, pointing to unmet needs and aspirations.

With this difference in mindset, it’s not a big surprise that Millennial men tend to enjoy exercise more than women and are more likely to incorporate a regimented routine into their lives. Millennial men are the most likely of any age group to workout weekly at gyms, at home, online, and in group fitness classes. Fitness is a hobby and lifestyle for many Millennial men, and they support it with high levels of both consumption and purchase of fitness-focused food, beverages, and supplements, from protein powder and bars to trendy products like CBD.

But change may be coming as Millennials move into middle age

Historically, gym membership peaks among consumers aged 35-39. It falls off a bit among those aged 40-44, and then drops dramatically after age 45. Among men, gym membership falls by one-third between the ages of 40-44 and 45-49. In other words, one-third of male members drop their memberships after age 45. This is actually a much more dramatic drop-off than women. With the oldest Millennials in their early 40s, these changes may be coming soon. We’ll see if Millennial men’s lifestyle approach to fitness carries them through this transition in a different way than previous generations.

For their part, women’s fitness engagement tends to increase with age, especially after age 45-54, as childcare becomes less time-consuming. This suggests that Millennial women will be back, but they will be returning to fitness with perimenopause around the corner, which brings a new suite of physical changes.

Both Millennial men and women will be looking for ways to maintain their fitness activities and physical abilities as long as they possibly can, and will likely turn to supplements and functional food and beverages with new needs. These needs will go beyond simply building muscle and improving hair, skin and nails. Millennials will be looking for joint health and function, maintaining bone mass, building immunity, reducing inflammation, maintaining skin’s elasticity and suppleness, and – as always – hydration. Now is the time to build engagement among Millennials so that they know where to turn as life inevitably catches up to them.

Sarah Marion, PhD, is the director of Syndicated Research at Murphy Research. Its State of Our Health (SOOH) syndicated research program is the largest and most comprehensive U.S. food and fitness tracker. You can learn about SOOH by emailing Sarah Marion at smarion@murphyresearch.com.

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