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 increase in memberships and patronage is 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 Americans of all ages and fitness levels, IHRSA says.

However, Joe Moore, the president and CEO of the nonprofit trade group for for-profit health clubs, says that clubs still need to reach out more to the public.

“It’s been a little more than a decade since the first Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health,” Moore says. “And while health club membership has grown by 63 percent since then, the number of Americans who exercise regularly represent just a fraction of the total population.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50 percent of American 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.

“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.”

The U.S. health and fitness industry is leading several consumer health initiatives, including the 4th Annual Get Active America! initiative—a month-long program in May to help all Americans reduce their risk of chronic disease by building exercise into their daily routines. Participating health clubs will open their doors—free of charge from May 14-20.