Japanese fitness market dominated by consumers over 60 years of age. A sign of the times

Japanese gym goers in their 60’s account for 37% of the 400 billion yen spent annually on fitness clubs, while those in their 70’s represent 21%.

This dwarfs the share occupied by younger folks in either their 20s and 30s, according to studies by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (2012) and Nikkei Marketing Journal (2016) and written here by Nobuko Kobayashi of A.T. Kearney in Tokyo.

FamilyMart Fit & Go
FamilyMart Fit & Go

With the overall fitness market growing at around 4.6% (thanks to the older consumers), companies are seizing these opportunities (see below). Many countries are fast catching up with Japans’ super-aged society and companies should respond to these opportunities now.

Certainly in Japan, none of this phenomenon should come as a surprise. Demographers have predicted this for decades. Now, the average healthy life expectancy in Japan has risen to 70 for men, and 74 for women according to the latest government statistics.

Financial fitness

Some reminders of the financial power of older households in Japan can be found in their financial statistics;

  • Accumulated financial assets owned by the 60+ households constituted 69% of the Japanese total in 2016, up from 53% in 2002
  • Overall number of households in the 60+ segment have increased from 17 million to 26 million since 2002
  • Average savings per 60+ household have also increased from 43 million yen ($383,000) to 47 million yen (roughly 24 million yen per head)
  • Average savings per household in the 40~49 segment are 10 million yen
  • People in their 40s and 50s are still typically burdened with mortgages while older households are relatively debt free

Senior gyms are booming

Some innovative, age-friendly approaches are being taken by major businesses in Japan to capitalise on the fitness trend among older adults.

3Fit "senior gym"
Aeon 3Fit “senior gym”

Retail giant Aeon is equipping shopping centers with gyms for older people. The 3Fit “senior gyms” are typically roomier with an emphasis on socializing versus rigorous exercise. Standard locations will have 250-350 sq. meters of space — slightly bigger than a convenience store — half of which will be dedicated to a lounge with a TV, vending machines and magazines.

FamilyMart convenience store chain recently announced that it will start a 24-hour fitness gym in February, 2018. Over the next five years, it aims to open 300 gyms on the second floors of FamilyMart stores and other locations.

The Fit & Go gyms will have treadmills and showers, along with staff dedicated to the new fitness business. Since no staff will be on hand late at night or early in the morning, however, the company will offer smartphone apps to teach customers how to train.

Rizap Group provides municipalities with health management programs incorporating exercise and dietary regimes with the aim of helping elderly residents stay in shape to reduce the need for nursing care. The average age of participants is around 68 years.

Rizap now boasts over 100 fitness centers throughout Japan and four gyms abroad, including in Shanghai and Singapore. Interestingly, their Singapore website seems to focus on a much younger target!?

Each of the three cases above illustrate an understanding of the evolving needs of the ageing population. The need to remain healthy (physical), the need for social interaction (emotional) their time-flexibility and fo course, their deeper pockets.

Every business will be affected by the ageing population. The business options resulting from this demographic inevitability are multiple and clear but two options are paramount; 1) capitalise sooner or later? 2) be a business victim or opportunist.

Where to begin?