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Going to the gym - are we getting obsessed?

Thursday, 03 May 2018
A man and woman posing at the gym Do you go the local gym? Designed by Freepik

The rise in popularity of the gym and fitness culture in the UK. Discover what influences our behaviour in our intermediate reading comprehension exercise with questions and answers.

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Reading comprehension - Intermediate level

In towns and villages all over the UK, fitness culture is fast becoming part of everyday life. Even if you detest exercise you cannot deny the incredible rise in the number of runners on your street, the fitness tips on social media and the small, modern gyms on every street corner vacated by a retail shop. What is happening to us and why?

According to 2015 figures, UK gym membership was increasing by 44% per year. This trend continues to grow and is not limited to just the wealthier sector of society.  These days we find that even among students fitness spending is fast becoming a priority. Health-conscious students now prefer to cut back on alcohol and are spending 4 times more on fitness than they were 10 years ago. In fact, among students, the total spend on health and fitness, including gyms, exercise classes and sports clubs was around £120 per month, whereas alcohol spending was approximately £68 per month.

Furthermore, according to market research, nearly 80% of adults in the UK are now setting themselves at least one health and fitness goal. This is demonstrated by the annual increase in gym sign-ups and purchases of fitness clothing seen each January as people renew their commitments and make their New Year resolutions.

So how can this trend be explained?

Firstly, in recent years we have seen the rise of the 'budget gym' where prices are smaller and participants are not tied into long, inflexible contracts. This has made membership more accessible to those on lower incomes or with other commitments. More universities have in-house facilities with a guaranteed audience that keeps prices low. In city centres, small 24 hour gyms are easy to reach even without transport. Technology has also changed the way we participate in fitness activities with people using technological devices to support their workouts. The use of pedometers, GPS, heart rate monitors and smart phone apps to monitor progress is now commonplace across the population from primary age children to active pensioners.

The media also has a great influence on the role of fitness culture because TV, magazines and commercial advertisements project an idealised image of the human body. This tends to promote the ideal as  'slim' or even 'thin' for women and 'slender and muscular' for men. In this way, we are all encouraged to participate in fitness activities in order to conform to the stereotype. This desire can also be intensified by peer pressure as we follow our inclination to belong to a group by joining a local club or gym. This can be a very positive experience as we are encouraged by others with similar goals and our motivation can be greatly increased. However, sometimes these pressures can lead to obsession, over-exercising and eating disorders. Nevertheless, gyms, clubs and classes do also function on a social level, allowing people to meet outside the workplace or the home. This appears to make a welcome break from online social interaction and helps establish real friendships, even creating the possibilities for deeper relationships.

However, when motivation starts to decline, there is always the possibility of boosting performance by using a personal trainer at the club. As the complexity of everyday life increases, many gym-goers are seeking to hand over the responsibility for exercise and results to a coach, trainer or other 'expert' who monitors their progress towards pre-set goals. Nevertheless, do not forget that these trainers will often provide an extra source of income for the club by recommending the purchase of extra goods and services, such as sport clothing or home equipment.

It is true that sport wear and athletic footwear has quickly become the fastest growing area in today's clothing market. Sport wear is now the norm not just for energetic activities but also for everyday wear and leisure time - even among those who rarely exercise! In fact, many of us have been guilty of taking up a sporting activity purely to justify the purchase of the attractive new exercise items in the shops or online!

Internet Sources

Wikipedia: Fitness Culture.  Available from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitness_culture {16/04/2018}

The Guardian:  UK gym membership spending up by 44%.  Available from:  https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/18/uk-gym-me {16/04/2018}

The Telegraph:  Fitness fanatics: Why are all my friends suddenly 'training' like they're professional athletes?  Available from:  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-health/10817153/fitness  {16/04/2018}

Elle Magazine: The Biggest Fitness Trends Of 2018: From Boxing To Versaclimbers. https://www.elle.com/uklife-and-culture/culture/longform/a41063/fitness-trends-gym-classes-workout/   {29/4/2018}

 The Independent:  Students cut back on alcohol and spend four times more on fitness than they once did.  Available from:  https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/students-alcohol-drinking-cut-down-fitness-spending-gym-membership-spce-finances-budget-a8011336.html   {29/4/2018}


Going to the gym -  are we getting obsessed? - Comprehension questions

1.  How quickly was the membership of UK gyms found to be rising in the 2015 study?

2.  Name two advantages of the 'budget gym' to the customer.

3.  What role does the media play in encouraging us to participate in the current fitness culture?

4.  Describe the positive side of peer pressure at the gym or club.

5.  What other function of the gym or health club is mentioned in the text?

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published in Graded Reading 2018
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Last modified on Friday, 08 June 2018 11:35