BOSTON — Health club membership in the United States increased by more than three percent last year from 41.3 million members (over the age of six) in 2005 to 42.7 million in 2006, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). This is the first increase after a two-year stall in membership numbers in 2004 and 2005.

In addition, the number of Americans who visited or belonged to a health club increased by more than six percent from 64.9 million people (over the age of six) in 2005 to 69.3 million in 2006. Health club membership has increased more than 25 percent in five years, and growth in health club patronage has increased nearly 20 percent during the same time.

The growth may be partially due to increased public awareness about the dangers of physical inactivity and the health and fitness industry's efforts to make exercise more accessible to all ages and fitness levels, IHRSA says.

However, Joe Moore, president and CEO of IHRSA, says clubs must do more.

“Research has shown that a perceived lack of personal time, which is often limited by commitments to family and work, in addition to financial and geographical constraints, is one of the most commonly cited reasons that people choose not to exercise,” Moore says. “By working to remove the barriers to exercise and increase the personal and financial incentives to exercise, we hope to encourage even greater growth in health club membership in the years to come.”

More than 50 percent of adults don't get enough physical activity to provide health benefits, and 30 percent — more than 60 million people 20 years and older — are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.