The idea that you need to invest money to improve your health is pricing many women out of fitness, says writer Chloe Gray.
“Are you serious about investing in your health and fitness journey?” asked the prompt box on the coaching enquiry form I was filling in. I ticked yes. The next slide that appeared included a very direct comment about how only people who were ‘serious about taking charge of their health’ should apply to their £100-a-week services. I’d been looking for someone to hold me accountable to my strength-gaining goals, but I swiftly closed the tab.
This borderline aggressive comment isn’t the first time that spending money has been associated with better health outcomes. From boutique studios costing nearly £200 a month for exercise to supplements that are marketed as essential but cost triple figures, many people feel priced out of the health world.
But in the current cost of living crisis, the message that looking after our bodies and minds requires a huge price tag is even more jarring; that not being able to afford an extra £400 a month meant I wasn’t serious about looking after my health and improving my fitness.
In the UK, the average monthly spend on a gym membership is £40.53 and, in 2017, 47% of people surveyed by Mintel said high membership fees stopped them from signing up. Since then, inflation has increased to a 40-year high. According to Sky News, the average price of a fitness class compared to five years ago has risen by over 20%, a bike costs over £200 more (an increase of almost two thirds) and even the cost of vegetables has risen by nearly 10%.
Yet, fitness culture that sells us expensive workouts, one-to-one coaching and a constant stream of new activewear has become more and more popular. These things alone aren’t the problem – a good class can make motivation and commitment soar. Personal trainers pump tons of their own money into education that justifies the fees they charge their clients who benefit from this knowledge. Feeling good in your clothes while exercising is shown to increase your confidence and performance, and some sports do need you to buy kit – think supportive trainers for running or swimsuits for the pool. But spending a lot is not a route to health in itself.
Running with friends is a free way to keep fit
“In the last 50 or so years, the world we live in has been so commercialized that it’s become seemingly impossible to do anything without spending money. That’s even true for the basic human requirement to keep fit and healthy,” says Laura Howard, finance expert at Forbes Advisor. “When you’re struggling just to power your home or fill up the car, many people may feel they can no longer afford to ‘invest in their health’.”
The things we’re told are requirements for health are often actually just the cherry on top of the fitness pie or the sprinkle on the exercise sundae. While we’d all love to have a PT create a session for us that is scientifically proven to help progression, you don’t need these costly services to make improvements to your health.
Let’s look at what the NHS advises for exercise. Adults should aim to do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, plus two resistance bearing sessions. That could be 30 minutes of brisk walking every weekday and a couple of bodyweight circuits at home.
If that doesn’t sound motivational, a budget gym can cost around £25 a month, or some dumbbells at home that you can use alongside a free YouTube video or affordable workout programs (such as the Strong Women Training Club, which costs less than £5 a month) need not cost more than around £20. Strava and Nike Run Club are both free to use and help you progress at running. Parkrun and Couch To 5k have famously got many people into running without spending a penny.
“The truth is – just as was the case many years ago – looking after your health doesn’t have to cost a thing. Don’t fall for paid-for or faddy diets, when straightforward vegetables in the steamer, baked sweet potatoes, canned tuna and plenty of water from the tap is a healthy and affordable meal,” says Howard.
Making any changes to your health and fitness does require conscious choices, but these can be made without huge monetary investment. Maybe you can invest some time, adding an extra 10 minutes to your commute by getting off the Tube a stop early. Perhaps you can invest thought by planning and scheduling your workouts for the week so you don’t feel overwhelmed in the gym. You might invest some knowledge by reading books on nutrition or following educational platforms on social media that offer free advice.
Whichever way you chose to make changes or steps towards bettering your health, you are no less serious because you aren’t paying extortionate amounts of money for it, especially during a national financial crisis.
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).