Although there are valid critiques of gym culture, and I’d be the first to offer some, I believe there are important reasons to go to a gym to work out, even if it’s a garage gym at your friend’s house or to the outdoor park gym. The reasons in support of going to a gym, versus doing other forms of in-home activity, offer lessons for other organizations looking to attract participants. The constructive and valid reasons why people go to gyms, and why they should, offer insights about what people need and want in modern life.
First, gyms offer a sorely missing opportunity for in-person social connections. I’ve made many friendships working out at a gym because a gym is what’s called a 3rd place in social science. Sociologists call gyms a “3rd place”, because it’s not 1) home or 2) work, but rather a 3rd type of place that people can socialize in. Churches, bars, coffee shops, and parks are other examples of 3rd places. It’s pretty easy to strike up a conversation with someone in a 3rd place, even with someone who you normally wouldn’t talk to, because 3rd places don’t have the stress that work and home often have. For example, when I was a teenager, the gym was a relatively healthy place I could go in my small town to make friends and stay out of trouble.
America is the most atomized, unhappy, and socially isolated country in the world. Rising deaths of despair, so-called because they involve many factors- moral collapse, social isolation, declining relative wages, family and marriage disintegration, drug and alcohol abuse, meaninglessness, and increased costs of living- are a recent and growing phenomena in the USA which have only gotten worse since the COVID 19 epidemic. 3rd places help alleviate some, if not all, of the problems of societal despair and we need more of them than ever. In addition to the health benefits of exercise, both mental and physical, gyms give people a place to go, preventing social isolation, and getting people away from screens and the 24/7 news cycle.
It’s good to go to the gym. Sure, working out at home is fine too, but for most people a gym offers unique benefits. In addition to the social benefits, there are pieces of fitness equipment like full dumbbell racks, bar squat racks, cardio machines and others, that are too big for most homes. Gyms also offer group classes, another way to meet people. So get off the couch, and go to a gym. You might be surprised how much you like it, how much better you feel inside and out, and how many friends you make.
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