Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Does easy access to fitness infrastructure improve community health?

The following guest post is contributed by Paul Hench, who writes on the topic of masters in public health. He welcomes your comments at his email: paul.23hench@gmail.com.

I actually would have made the opposite argument, but maybe that's just my personal taste for easily accessible fitness infrastructure like bike paths and affordable gyms, when I'm already planning to exercise.  I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this topic!

Does Easy Access to Fitness Infrastructure Improve Community Health?

A recent discussion with a few friends and family members saw us divided over the issue of whether easy access to fitness equipment made us healthier and fitter or lazier than ever before. I was among those who insisted that it’s the people who have a whole gym set up at home who don’t find the time to exercise. They have all that they need at their disposal; however, they don’t have what they need the most when it comes to working out – motivation and dedication.

I know it sounds like an irony, but when you have a treadmill, an exercise bike, dumbbells, and/or various other exercise paraphernalia at home, you get into what I call the “complacent mode”. Your mind believes that you have all the time in the world to exercise, whenever you want, simple because you don’t have to adhere to gym timings or worry about the weather or the safety aspect outdoors. However, what really happens is that you keep putting off your exercise time – you wake up too late to exercise and you think you can squeeze in your routine when you come home in the evening; but then you’re too tired and promise to wake up earlier the next morning. The following day however sees you too lazy to work out and you prefer to spend a quiet morning alone, and you tell yourself you will make it up over the weekend with an intense workout. The weekend brings its own social plans and the next week starts the same vicious cycle all over again. So at the end of it all, you have fancy equipment that gathers dust even as your body gathers rust – you lose your health and fitness and gain quite a few pounds in the process.

So this begs the question – is the same true of a community that has easy access to fitness infrastructure? If your neighborhood had affordable gyms that were open throughout the day, if you had easy access to parks and stadia where you could go for a peaceful jog or just go through your workout in the open air, would you jump at the opportunity or would you keep putting off your exercise needs? The answer lies in the individual motivation one has to exercise – no matter how easy your access to fitness infrastructure and equipment, no matter how convenient it is for you to exercise, you tend to work out regularly only when you are motivated enough to do so.

Some people find their motivation in the need to stay healthy; others go with vanity because they want to stay in shape; yet others find that exercise does them a world of good so they don’t want to give it up; and for the rest, it has become a way of life that they cannot and do not want to change. For these people who are motivated and dedicated, it does not matter that they do not have easy access to fitness infrastructure – they go where they need to in order to find it or they make do with what they have.

A very few people do tend to get tempted and swayed when they see gyms and parks around them and people sweating it out morning and evening; however, even though they start exercising, it is motivation that makes them stick to it. So coming back to the question in the title – irrespective of the ease of access to fitness infrastructure, a community’s collective health depends on the motivation that each of its individuals have to exercise and stay at it.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article. It really does make one think which trumps which: personal motivation or convenience?