Fitness is one of the fastest growing industries in the developed world: even in 2008, in the UK, contrary to the general economic ‘gloom and doom’ it reported an increase in market value of 2,6%. Not bad for an industry that started as the preoccupation of a small number of enthusiasts and professionals using dingy, semi-ruined facilities stinking of sweat and morphed into an aspirational, and later mass, life-style of shiny, clean and organised industry.

According to statistics, currently in the UK there are close to 6,000 health clubs and gyms. These have an estimated value of slightly under £4 billion ($6.25 billion) and membership of close to 7.5 million. If so many of pay good money to use the facilities offered by the fitness industry, we should expect that the levels of fitness are soaring, the levels of obesity are at rock bottom and that we are a fit, toned and healthy, right? Wrong.

Having an economically strong and growing fitness industry does not appear to translate into fitness and health. According to a study carried out by the NHS in 2008 a quarter of the adult population in England can be classed as ‘obese’. Even more seriously, in the same year almost 40% of the adults in England had raised waist circumference – a substantial increase when compared with 23% in 1993. This tendency is affecting our children as well; the same study found that the levels of obesity have risen amongst children aged between 2 and 15 years. Alarmingly, a recent study of the fitness levels of 10 year olds registered a rapid decline in fitness.

And here is the paradox! On the one hand the fitness industry is growing from strength to strength and roughly a fifth of all adults in the UK pay good money on health club and gym membership. On the other hand, the levels of obesity, both among adults and children, are soaring and the levels of fitness are decreasing as well. Consequently, we are becoming a nation of overweight and unfit consumers of fitness.

This begs the question, is it worth joining a gym? Looking at the evidence above, it seems that the answer is a definite ‘no’ – gyms don’t work!

But things are rarely as they seem. Let us first look at why gyms don’t work.

Gyms don’t work because people don’t use them: high dropout rate is what the industry thrives on. Normally, 80% of the people who join a gym stop using it within eight weeks of joining; and exceptions are few and far between.

Decide to get fit first!

Whether or not it is worth joining a gym depends first and foremost on your determination to get fit. Most people join a gym on impulse: every year in January there is an influx of new subscribers and gyms get busier. Every year, in February I know that I’ll be able to exercise in piece again – because the ‘new year’s resolution’ crowd has given up.

Exercise like many other things in our lives is a habit. So, deciding to get fit is not an act: at least at first it has to become a life style choice. When starting a fitness programme you will have to be prepared to choose to exercise every time – otherwise it is too tempting to read, watch TV and/or have a drink.

So, joining the suckers on whom the economic growth of the fitness industry depends – those who may gym membership but not use the facilities – decide to get fit; and persist!

You don’t really need a gym to get fit!

Even after deciding to get fit, you don’t really need a gym to do it. My blogging buddy Miss T at the Prairie Eco Thrifter published some really good article on this one. I fully agree with her and would add that:

2) Joining a gym to use the aerobic equipment is really daft. If you want to run just get out of your house, turn left and love your feet (and there are more annoying things than someone walking on a treadmill but these are very few). If you wish to cycle, ride your bike and get somewhere – to work, to the park; it is your call.

3) Strictly speaking, to get fit you need to do three exercises – squats, push-ups and pull-ups. And you don’t need a gym to do these – you can do them in your house, in your garage, in the park or using a children’s playground. Last year I had great time here in Sofia showing a group of teens what a middle aged woman can do on some of the playground equipment – their mocking stopped at the 50th press-up and it felt really good.

You don’t need to join a gym to get fit! You just need determination and motivation!

Except if you are seriously into a specific sport or the climate is prohibitive to enjoying the outside.

If you are into a specific sport and training you will need to join a gym – you will need to do much more varied exercise that the one I mentioned above; more importantly you will need the guidance of a GOOD trainer. Going on the cheap can seriously hurt you but even worse – it seriously hurts. I for one am very grateful that my marathon training is supervised and guided by my personal trainer. Remember Chris Clark? I intend to win a marathon when I am 80 – I know it is cheating but it gives you the idea that running can be safe but you need proper and professional training: printing programmes off the web is not going to do it!

The second condition under which you need to join a gym is climate: it can be too cold or too hot for some sports. For instance, we paid almost as much to join a gym for a month in Sofia as to spend a week on at the sea. Waste of money you may think but think again: I am training for a marathon and it is 35C outside. When a bravely venture to run 1h 10 min outside I had to rehydrate for a day. Apart from getting tired (it takes loads of energy to cool down) and tripping over; you should have seen John’s face when I came back with bleeding knees! And the speed with which we got to the local gym and joined.

So do you need to join a gym?

What we all need to do is decide to get fit! Joining a gym is optional except if you are serious about a particular sport and/or you live where the climate can be extreme.