An Exercise in Social Distance

Health and Fitness, No Gym Required

The fitness industry is a bit of a mess right now. That’s because, in many places, health clubs are not very healthy places to be. The great indoors is a great place to share the coronavirus. Especially if you’re sweating and breathing hard. But Jack Raglin, a kinesiology professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health, says gym closures need not be a bad thing. Health and fitness need not require a gym. He says:

If I had to predict, I’d say there’s probably going to be more of a shift to light activity. People who’ve been stuck at home with free time are realizing they don’t need a gym and they can achieve a lot.

I’m guardedly hopeful that there will be a permanent difference in a lot of people who either weren’t exercising or weren’t doing that much and have come out of this with a different perspective on health and taking care of themselves. Exercise is a profound way of doing that.

An Industry Struggling to Adapt

It’s fair to say that the fitness industry is in turmoil. The CrossFit brand suffered a huge hit in June when a racist tweet led the its CEO to resign and sell the company. Piper Sandler, which tracks the fitness industry, says that many small operators will not survive the COVID economy.

Gyms have a reputation as intimidating places. Some because diversity is not welcome. Others because of body shaming. This is not what you would call healthy branding. And it’s more than anecdotal.

Trendlines - Obesity, Calories Burned at Work, Gym MembershipsGymtimidation is a buzzword for something that as many as 50 percent of adults may feel about fitness in a public setting. Planet Fitness builds its marketing campaigns around setting people free from it. Nonetheless, it remains very real. Fitness culture has a strong thread of weight bias woven into it.

A Different Future

Raglin is right. Fitness – both the industry and attitudes about it – will be very different when we emerge from this pandemic. Participants who pretend otherwise are likely to be left behind. This could, in the long run, be quite a good thing. While the fitness industry has boomed in its old form, the population has not benefited. In fact, obesity has soared right along with gym memberships.

The times indeed are a-changin’. Perhaps fitness can have a much better future because of this, but only if the industry adapts. “For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled.”

Click here and here for more on the changes afoot in the fitness industry.

An Exercise in Social Distance, photograph © Ken Walton / flickr

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July 18, 2020

3 Responses to “Health and Fitness, No Gym Required”

  1. July 18, 2020 at 4:57 pm, Chester Draws said:

    Unless people change, which is biologically unlikely, things will mostly revert as soon as the virus fades. All those good intentions will disappear, as they always do. We all know already that we should exercise. We don’t because we are humans, and humans struggle to do some things.

    Attitudes to exercise, gym or not, will change gradually — because people change gradually. While we still have cars and air-conditioning and fast-food outlets, the temptations to live unhealthily will not change.

    I live in New Zealand, so we have no virus. Nothing significant has changed socially, despite all the predictions “things would never be the same”.

  2. July 25, 2020 at 3:05 pm, Valerie said:

    “While the fitness industry has boomed in its old form, the population has not benefited. In fact, obesity has soared right along with gym memberships.”

    Come on, you know enough about obesity to know that it’s got very little to do with going to the gym.

    And why would weight-based discrimination change because of the pandemic? In what universe does one have anything to do with the other?

    There are lots to say about the effect of the lockdown on fitness, and its link to physical and mental health. But gymtimidation? Really? That’s the angle you chose?

    • July 25, 2020 at 4:06 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks for taking time to express yourself here, Valerie. I’m sorry that reading this post did not bring you joy.