The gym is the greatest capitalist con, greater than the casino, and yet so much more acceptable, so much more legitimate. How do they (gym brands) get away with it? The bizarre fascination with the gym – that airless space, the tiresome flexing and relaxing, the determined pointlessness, the feverish generation of sweat – none of which was even conceived before the 60s. It was nothing more than a fad. It has taken fewer than 20 years for the gym to go from an urban fad to the very core of medical belief. Fruit, vegetables and gym: these are now the musketeers of good health. The fitness industry is worth an estimated $40 Billion Dollars (320 billion Rand) growing at a rate of 5% per year and there has been a 63% increase in gym membership since 1999. Yet people remain overweight it doesn’t add up.
South Africa’s gym membership rates have been (and still are) rapidly increasing especially in metro areas but it is interesting to note that it is these areas that are most badly affected by obesity. According to the guardian people in Cape Town are the worst affected with 72% overweight, closely followed by residents of Pretoria (68%), Johannesburg (59%) and Durban (52%). Clearly the increase in gym membership is not directly proportional to a decrease in weight (which is what gyms would have us believe). The gym is NOT making us thinner!
One of the reasons for this is that vigorous exercise stimulates your appetite. So a 20-minute run might use up 200 calories, but your hunger won’t necessarily – indeed, almost certainly won’t – restrain itself to that amount of extra food. Well then, use willpower to overcome the appetite (say the steroid filled muscle heads). That might work, except that willpower is like a muscle (or, as Oliver Burkeman described it, “a unitary, diminishing resource”). You’ve already used your day’s determination going to the gym in the first place: your ability to resist the temptations of your appetite is already diminished, even before that appetite has increased. Some doctors happily cave in regarding the importance of rigorous exercise, but experts on the obesity “epidemic” have been questioning this advice for ages, and rarely recommend anything more demanding than walking and cycling.
Steven Gortmaker, who heads the Harvard Prevention Research Centre on nutrition and physical activity, said this about playgrounds at fast-food restaurants: “Why would they build those? … if a kid plays five minutes and burns 50 calories, he might then go inside and consume 500 calories.”
Studies come out all the time showing that exercise doesn’t make you thin. But gyms have become so central to our idea of what it means to take responsibility for oneself that sensible people write this evidence off as eccentric stuff originating from academic troublemakers. In fact, sensible people should never even see the word “gym” without mentally ending the sentence “stimulates appetite”. They are a good answer for elite athletes with specific muscular needs. Everybody else should just go for a walk, or – if that too seems pointless – take a walk to a particular destination.
Exercise improves health – it’s good for your heart, it has an effect against a number of cancers, but this is not what gyms are selling us, they are saying gym will make your body beautiful. Gyms would get nowhere if they flogged themselves as a long-term preventative measure against future heart attacks. They had to appeal to narcissism: the genius of gym culture was to dress up personal vanity in the disguise of good health, and thereby overcome all the natural, decent reservations we would have had about blowing R600 (Virgin National membership) a month on a beauty regime that didn’t even work.
You can’t expect to drive to the gym, park as close as possible to that gym, get into a lift and exercise for an hour or two and be thinner when you have been sitting at the office for the last six hours. “Bursts of exercise is not the answer; two hours of exercise per day will not compensate for 22 hours of sitting,” says cancer specialist and author David Agus, MD. In fact, sitting for five or six hours a day, even if you spend an hour a day at the gym, is the equivalent of smoking an entire pack of cigarettes. Gym is not the answer to your sagging bottom a change of lifestyle is!
You’ll should really be ashamed (with your useless Virgin membership cards). There is no more obvious wastefulness than spending money to pump out energy on treadmills, just to force us to consume more energy, none of which has any result that couldn’t be replicated by taking a turn around the block. Never mind the Earth’s resources, we should have more respect for our own resources. We ought to see the waste of our toil in the same terms as wasting food. I’ll only sign up for gym membership if they instate unisex saunas.
That’s our piece and tell them you heard it from Matt “The Rat” Mkhize