Going to The Gym: The Benefits Outweigh the Risks

sploid fitness

Image credit: Sploid

TreeHugger has pointed out the environmental costs of going to the gym before; I have been using this silly photograph that says it all since 2006. Now Sara points out in her post The Hidden Dangers of the Gym: Grimy and Downright Nasty that they also harbour CA-MRSA (Community acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), and could "make you sick, Really, really sick." Sara notes that "The deadly infection is linked to more than 18,000 deaths per year in the US."

But you know what will make you sicker and perhaps even kill you? Not going to the gym.

obesity graph

Graph of the Day: Obesity Rates Around The World

We have a worldwide obesity crisis, but in America alone, 300,000 people die each year from it, via cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other diseases. The medical costs resulting from obesity in the USA are estimated to be $168 billion, or 16.5% of the nation's total medical costs.

In America, people are afraid to run in the streets because they might get mugged or to ride their bikes because they might get hit, even though statistically they are going to live a lot longer if they do these things than if they don't. That is why a lot of cycling advocates dislike bike safety programs and helmet promotions; they think they scare people off bikes. I worry that fear of MRSA infections could have the same chilling effect and keep people out of gyms.

air conditioned nightmare image

America's Air Conditioned Nightmare- change in population in last 50 years due to central air conditioning

In much of America, there isn't a lot of choice other than the gym if you want exercise; thanks to air conditioning, people live in places where it is difficult to run or bike outside in much of the year. It is difficult to be outside. I've noted that "In Houston, a person walking is someone on his way to his car." Other places are even worse.

cars make you fat

Cars Make You Fat

Then there is American suburban planning, which is designed to make you fat. You almost have to drive to a gym to get a workout. Combine that with the fact that a lot of people cannot or will not run, particularly as they get older. Here are few other good reasons to hit the gym:

  • It's what we call a product service system or PPS; there is a lot of great equipment there that is shared rather than owned. The stuff is usually well maintained and often top of the line, much better than you can afford for a home gym.

  • It is social. You are in an environment where people are trying to do the same thing as you, it becomes part of a fixed routine, and there are professional trainers who can help you do it right. Unless you are seriously self-motivated, you are probably going to get more and more regular exercise going to the gym and being in that milieu than you will if you try to do it yourself.

  • It is well-rounded. A gym gives a wide variety of exercise options, working all of the body. Self-directed exercise usually hits only a portion of it.

  • It is part of an urban lifestyle. You are not hiding in your house, but getting out and being part of the city.

But most of all, it works. People who exercise and eat properly lose weight, stay fit, look better and live longer. In my admittedly brief research for this post I found evidence that CA-MRSA could be transmitted among people who play football, rugby or wrestle, where they get abrasions on their skin that provide a place for the staph to get through the surface of their skin. I couldn't find evidence of a single fatality linked to CA-MRSA from the use of gym equipment.

Furthermore, all of the measures that one would take to prevent CA-MRSA infection are exactly the same as one would take to avoid getting a cold or the flu or athlete's foot at the gym, which everyone has been doing for years:

  • Wash your hands. A lot.
  • Wipe down the equipment before and after using it.
  • Don't share towels.
  • Keep abrasions and cuts covered.

And most importantly, don't let a CA-MRSA scare keep you from going to the gym. The risks that come from that are far, far higher.

More on Gyms:
Pedal-Power in Detroit: Green Gym for the Homeless
Hong Kong Gym Harvests People-Power
More Gyms Are Tapping into Pedaling for Power...and also for Profit

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