That's a pretty audacious statement, I know.
So why are gyms for community?
Some people just come to the gym to knock out their workout and leave. Let's acknowledge that first.
However, social status, accountability and community is a massive driver to keep showing up.
Research published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology concluded that social support can significantly assist individuals stick to their fitness goals . That's pretty significant. I guess if you want to get in shape you need to find a gym buddy (or a group). That's never been a driver for me personally, though.
Most gyms form communities - you can see how tight of a bond CrossFit community has (some say it's a bit tribal), Orange Theory fitness formed their community that is driven by numbers and competitiveness, Physique57 turned into a boutique exercise experience that is oriented towards female community, etc.
Humans are wired to form social connections and interact with each other. A place where endorphins are flowing is a great place to connect. I bet you've heard some love stories that started in the gym, too...
So... What's the problem? Isn't community important for health?
But let's talk about how gyms are not necessarily health-oriented. I always catch a strong whiff of rubber and bleach once I enter the gym.
Based on the study published in the journal Building and Environment unsafe levels of formaldehyde, CO2 and VOCs in the gym were found . That doesn't surprise me considering all the toxic chemicals that gym goers get exposed to from disinfectantants, industrial cleaners and sprays that are used to clean the equipment.
Exposure to chemicals can result in brain fog, fatigue and impaired physical performance. How do you combat it? Look for a gym with an outdoor access that has good airflow.
What else is not healthy?
Gyms are not so much health driven as they are (mainly, there are exceptions, but I'm generalizing) body and aesthetics oriented.
So what's the difference?
Reaching a "desired body composition" most often than not is far from optimal for our biology. What you see on magazine covers or amongst fitness competitors is a distorted image of what the body "should" look like. Let's not kid ourselves - biceps curls and 3% body fat is NOT healthy.
Fitness CAN be a part of a healthy lifestyle, by all means, but health is way more than visually appealing physiques and heavy weights that are picked up and out down (while being unable to climb a flight of stairs without losing the breath). Too many gym goers forget to really move their bodies outside of the gym in a functional manner and justify their poor nutritional choices with "I'll burn in off later in the gym".
What kind of message do you think the body is getting when it's sedentary for most part of the day, then it's thrown into a Crossfit class for an hour and goes back to the seated position?
I think we can admit that it's not healthy?
Alright - one more.
Gyms can intensify insecurities.
I can't even count how many of my female clients refused to exercise at a gym because they felt intimidated and inadequate. I can absolutely understand why the gym environment might not be too welcoming for some. Comparison and insecurities are often amplified in the gym setting and that's not something that is good for our mental health for sure.
So are gyms ruining your health?
Well, realistically not. I definitely wouldn't go that far. But I'd highly recommend to opt for a jog in the park or a quick HIIT session outside and mix it up a little bit.
Gyms CAN be a nice addition to a healthy lifestyle and going to the gym, by all means, is better than not exercising at all, but for optimal health - day-to-day movement, low level physical activity and minimizing sedentary position is definitely more effective (and less toxic).