Wednesday, February 09, 2011

“Eat healthy, exercise and socialize” – Part 1

You’ve been hauling yourself to the gym every day for two weeks and are feeling good. Then someone says on Facebook that you’re looking “prosperous”. Deflation, discouragement, drop out. The main moral of this story is that if you weren’t friends with them in school, ignore the friend request, but also consider this: how engaging is the gym that it can be influenced so easily by a random opinion?

I’ve met very few people my age who don’t want to start exercising. They join gyms, sign up for classes, and drop out almost immediately. I’ve had four gym memberships. I’ve started aerobics, Pilates, kick-boxing, body sculpt, circuit training, holistic weight loss and boot camps of many varieties, including one called Bollywood Booty Kamp. I’ve bought a stability ball, two sets of free weights, several kinds of resistance bands, skipping ropes beyond counting, and books on everything. They were none of them used very much, not even the books. We defaulters put it down to lack of will power and self-discipline, and try, try, try again, never thinking that the problem might also lie with the activity we’ve been conditioned to choose. The gym is a chore, not fun.

Some other problems I have with gyms:
• They have no point: You walk on a treadmill for hours with no change of scenery, lift weights for no reason other than to get better at lifting weights, sweat away at the complicated steps of some group class only so you can lose weight.
• They’re indoors: I went through a stress-related breakdown some years ago and the counsellor wanted me to get out of the gym and walk outside, since that is healthier for the mind.
• They are joyless and inward-focused: Sign in, locker, warm up, machines, warm down, shower, locker, sign out. It’s like the caricature of a communist factory.
• They’re hotbeds of bad advice: Unrealistic goals. Foolish applause when you overreach yourself (it’s bad enough that half your Facebook friend-list will show up to tell you they’re “proud of you”, without it being reinforced by awe-inspiring strangers). Encouragement to start a crash diet, so you can be tired and enervated all the time. Fitness myths of all kinds.
• They’re mindlessly competitive: You compare your lonely statistics against someone else’s equally solitary achievement and win no prizes.

Against this, there is the fact that most of the friends who took up a sport, or an outdoor activity such as running, walking or cycling have had no trouble keeping it up.

I should mention here that I’m not talking about people who are in serious training. I’m addressing those like me who just want to feel fit and look good. We are the ones who line the roads to clap for marathon runners, triathletes and people who cycle 100km a day, but have no desire to do it ourselves. For people like us, gyms are not the best choice for what they purport to do, but – like Microsoft Office, big-brand breakfast cereals and Starbucks – have somehow managed to become not just the default option, but the popular one. They seem to have changed the very world they exist in to make themselves the most acceptable choice.

If a store made you uncomfortable, a restaurant gave you a hard time, a nightclub was boring, a dry cleaner ruined your clothes or a mechanic cheated you, you wouldn’t go back to them. And yet, you return to the gym over and over again, in spite of its repeated failure to work for you.

CONTINUED BELOW (Yes the title of the post is explained eventually)

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