I used to associate gyms with vanity, until I realized they helped minds as well as bodies | Owen Jones

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gYms are temples where the terminally conceited people worship their own bodies and set their money on fire. If you want to improve yourself, read a book: and why, given the limited time given to each of us to be alive, waste so much time in complacent solitude? More sinister than that, gyms feed off insecurities fostered by a popular culture that revere unrealistic physical types: and as a gay man, I belong to a community in which body dysmorphia struts the dance floor with a joyful abandonment.

It was what I thought, anyway, and even when I made it to a gym membership, I felt like a deaf singer joining a choir. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing, flexing with free weights in all sorts of improbable poses as I shyly struggled with the treadmill and aimlessly tried out the occasional weight machine, hoping that growling a lot was some kind of sign of progress. (It’s reassuring to know that it didn’t make me exceptional: Research suggests that more than half of us don’t know what to do at the gym.)

This year, I changed my mind for several reasons. First, I had gained weight during the lockdown – like most Brits, who on average added half a stone – largely because, as one in three British adults, my drinking had increased. The boredom of containment, the stress of writing a book, and the politics increasingly resembling a scorching dumpster haven’t helped. Second, I didn’t want to remember those troubling times as a miserable black hole devouring life: better to be able to say that at least it sparked positive change. Third, I was still in shock to be 37 and realize that “Oh, so you To do forge ahead with life, and without making any changes, your health is on a downward slope.

Starting over two months before the gyms reopened on April 12th, I drastically cut down on my alcohol intake, combined with running and high intensity interval training – this is where you start / stop bursts of vigorous exercise – and I ate a lot of Greek yogurt. This approach is not for everyone and, in retrospect, was a mistake: Losing weight quickly is likely to reduce both body fat and muscle mass.

So, shortly after the gyms reopened, I decided to focus on building muscle for several reasons, none of which had to do with becoming the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the left. It’s good for your health, and research even suggests it’s good for brain function. It reduces stress and improves emotional well-being, fueling endorphins on a search-and-destroy mission to eliminate bad thoughts. When I train I have to concentrate – which is not easy in my case – so that I can forget all the people who loudly decided that I am the Socialist Antichrist on Twitter. There is the satisfaction of learning and mastering new skills – especially ones that you always believed were simply programmed never to acquire. Daily physical tasks become easier, making you a more useful resource. You are laying a healthy foundation for the years to come to build on. It’s undeniably rewarding, too, to put a lot of effort into something and see results, even if that could be interpreted as vanity.

Here is a much healthier alternative to diet scams, the vast majority of which ultimately end up with the dieter gaining more weight than they started. Indeed, I was forced to learn a lot more about food and how the body works. Rather than seeing carbohydrates as inherently bad, to be labeled ‘strongly avoided’, I came to understand good carbohydrates – like oats, wholegrain bread, whole vegetables and fruits – as a source of fuel. , so protein can be used to build muscle rather than inefficiently breaking it down for energy. Today, I eat more than ever, paying more attention to what the body considers most useful. This is important because eating a balanced diet is much more important than flexing your arms in the local gym.

It is above all educational. Rather than randomly using the machine that seemed the least intimidating, I searched the internet for a diet that works different muscle groups on different days. Thanks to YouTube, a friend and a brilliant personal trainer called Nathan once a week, I learned the proper form for each exercise – important if you want to avoid injury. And so, at 37, I’m healthier.

So many caveats must be applied here. It’s easy to do if you don’t have kids, if you live next to a gym that you can afford to join, and if you have a work life that you can juggle with flexibility. I haven’t changed my mind about the ailments of body dysmorphia and the importance of embracing the different ways our bodies manifest themselves. And while the market size of the UK gym and fitness industry nearly doubled to over £ 2bn in the 2010s, for many, membership doesn’t mean much. other than feeling better after doing something. In the United States, less than a fifth of gym members regularly use their paid facilities. Like everything, the gym needs commitment, to be comfortable with the trial and error that forms the basis of education, and to develop new skills. But in my case, it worked, improved my physical and mental health, and made life more satisfying, so I’m going to change my mind.


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