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Post-covid: Should you cancel your gym membership?

As a health writer, COVID-19 has been at the forefront of conversation. But as many US states start reopening, the conversation is shifting from covid-related panic to questioning how we can get back to normal after the global epidemic. What is the new normal? In terms of health and fitness, one of the biggest topics in question is whether gym memberships should be cancelled. Here's my analysis, to help you find your new normal on your fitness journey.

Why you should not cancel it

Ask yourself these questions, to ascertain whether you should keep or quit your gym membership:

  • Do you struggle with motivation?

  • Do you need a personal trainer or guidance?

  • Do you have enough money to get a gym membership? (Remember you can get memberships for as low as $10 a month in most cities in the US)

  • Do you prefer to do outdoor sports? If so, how regularly do you actually do them?

  • Can you stay accountable at home to workout without distractions?

  • Can you afford to buy some home workout equipment?

  • Do you have space to workout at home?

  • Do you have enough time to go to the gym on a regular basis (factoring in the time it takes to get there, workout, get back, change, shower)?

It’s all about weighing up the options. If you’re consistently busy with work, travelling around for meetings and don’t enjoy working out - paying for a gym membership might be wasted, you can instead focus on home workouts that are brief and frequent. If you’re financially struggling, save your dollars and do home workouts. If you’re unmotivated and need a kick in the right direction, keep your gym membership.

Why you should cancel it

It would be easy and expected to say no, gym memberships are necessary to get fit. But fitness should be accessible for all, which means for some - not having a gym membership. If you do currently have a gym membership but are considering whether to continue it post-covid, here are some reasons as to why you may want to cancel your gym membership:

  • You can get a good workout in without the gym - read this post about how to intensify your home workouts

  • You can’t afford a gym membership

  • There isn’t a gym nearby

  • You rarely use the gym

  • The gym environment makes you feel intimidated or anxious

  • You are in a higher risk group for developing infection or disease

  • You prefer to workout in different setting

  • None of your friends or fitness buddies go to the same gym as you

  • You travel around a lot

  • You’re short on time

As you can see, the reasons for cancelling a gym membership are vast - ranging from the financial burden to a case of preference. Ultimately, it’s important to understand that having a gym membership is not entirely associated with getting fit. You can get fit without a gym membership, as long as you have the right guidance and determination.

In fact, for some a gym membership may be preventing them from getting fit (trust us on this one). If you love being outside, choose an exercise that can be done outside like surfing, hiking or rollerblading. If you love dancing, join a dance class. ‘Fitness’ is not exclusively performed in the gym.

Bacteria in gyms

If you're preempting a second wave of coronavirus and are afraid that gyms will be a hotspot for infection, you're not wrong. A study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that was published in 2014 found as many as 25 different strains of bacteria present on skin-contract surfaces in gyms, like free weights, equipment and yoga mats. Pretty gross right?

The researchers of the study mainly found bacteria from human and environmental origin, but also pathogenic, dangerous bacteria like Salmonella and Staphylococcus. There was nearly the same amount of dangerous bacteria found on the toilet handle as on the elliptical. Seriously gross.

The gym is an environment where you can work on yourself, get fitter, healthier, feel happy. But it’s also an environment with a bacterial density similar to that of a public restroom, it’s a high risk zone for people susceptible to getting ill, particularly if your immune system is compromised. So if you're at risk for infection, cancelling your gym membership may be a better option for you to protect your health.

If you decide to continue with your gym membership, you need to be careful of your hygiene practices when using the gym, to make sure you’re not leaving it dirtier than you found it, or leaving with something potentially harmful.

Aside from the risk of developing serious infections like covid-19, the most common infection you’re going to get at the gym is ringworm, a fungus that appears on the skin in the shape of a ring that has a raised, scaly texture. It’s so common in gyms because it’s a fungus that thrives in moist, sweaty environments. To avoid getting this infection, make sure you wipe down gym equipment before and after you use it with disinfectant wipes or spray from the gym.

Why you don't need the gym to get fit

So if you're cancelling your gym membership, can you still get fit? Absolutely. Whether you can afford a gym membership or not, whether you like to lift weights or dance, we’ve here to tell you that you can still get fit. Fitness is, and should remain to be, accessible to all. However to play devils advocate, while it's possible to get fit while working out at home, working out in a gym may be optimal. Let's explain that point.

The difference between optimal and possible

For many, having a gym membership may encourage them to workout. You’re spending money on it, so may as well use it. Plus, when you’re at the gym you feel pretty motivated, being surrounded by other people working on their fitness goals. For these individuals, having a gym membership is a great idea. If you get into a routine of regularly going to the gym, it becomes a habit and you start to enjoy it. Perfect.

However, for many other people, a gym membership is not for them. Perhaps there isn’t a gym near you, the closest one is 45 minutes drive away, or for any of the reasons listed above.

Our point being that it depends on what works for you. Moreover, there’s a difference between what’s optimal and what’s possible. For most, it’s optimal to have a gym membership. You have access to weights, equipment, space, fitness professionals to ask questions, a community of like minded peers and you’re financially motivated to go - to get your money's worth. That makes a gym membership optimal for getting fit. But that doesn't mean it’s impossible to get fit without the gym.

In fact, according to research, 63% of gym memberships go unused, and 82% of gym members only go to the gym once per week. So either these people aren’t working out, or they’re finding other ways to get fit. If this is you, here are some ideas for you to get fit without a gym membership:

  • Walking

  • Hiking

  • Running

  • Dancing

  • Surfing

  • Bodyweight workouts

  • Resistance band workouts

  • High intensity interval training

  • Swimming

  • Rollerblading

  • Gymnastics

  • Follow a Youtube workout video

In fitness, everyone is different. We’re all on unique journeys towards the same direction, all getting there in a slightly different way, and that’s ok - do what’s best for you. Getting fit is about burning energy, getting your heart pumping and activating your muscles - you don’t need a gym for that, it might be optimal, but it’s not required. So if you want to cancel your gym membership post-covid, know that you can still get fit and reach your goals.

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