A very common New Year’s resolution is to ‘join a gym and lose some of those festive pounds’! However, like most resolutions made at the start of the year, enthusiasm for going to the gym may soon wear off. Not only can it be a complete waste of money, but even if you do persevere with membership, it may work out that the gym is also a complete waste of energy.
Pool heating, gym equipment, vast arrays of televisions, drink chillers and lighting all use energy. Slightly ironic is the fact that people at the gym generate a lot of their own energy by running, cycling and rowing but this energy goes to waste. It is estimated that the average person will produce up to 300watts of electricity during a typical workout session. This is enough to power a washing machine for a few hours.
Research is currently underway to try and harness the energy that is generated by gym-goers. Several grants have been awarded to various universities to work out cost-effective ways of converting output from rowing machines and static bicycles to usable energy. In future it might be possible for an entire gym to be self-sufficient in terms of power consumption.
However, such research is in the early stages and it may be many years before reliable methods of capturing people-energy are developed. In the meantime, gyms will continue to use massive amounts of power.
The Environmentally Friendly Gym
Carbon-neutral gyms are starting to appear around the country. Many of these have environmental policies that aim to reduce waste, increase recycling and encourage users to think about the effects of their workout on the environment. Some gyms are even levying a charge on users so that tree planting projects can be resourced. One gym is able to reclaim over 800 cubic metres of rainwater from the roof. This is enough to fill their 25metre swimming pool.
There is another negative side to the gym-based workout. Research has found that over-strenuous exercise can be detrimental to health. Many people exercise too rigorously, gaining little benefit from their session. The misconception that buckets of sweat means a good workout can result in no physical improvement. The most beneficial exercise is that aimed at increasing the heart-rate by about 70% of the maximum heart rate (maximum heart rate is worked out by subtracting your age from 220) Yet, many people during a session on a treadmill exercise at a much higher rate than this, which has been found to have very little physical benefit.
The Green Gym
An amazing alternative to the conventional gym is the Green Gym, a concept that allows gentle exercise out in the countryside in fresh air.
Green Gyms involve members ‘working out’ by planting trees, rebuilding damaged forest footpaths or rebuilding walls. Participants have been found to exercise moderately over a period of about four hours – equivalent to a short session on a treadmill. However, the advantage is that the air is completely pure and, more importantly, the energy expended goes into producing a tangible product. This form of gentle exercise has been found to reduce heart attacks and strokes by about 50%.
Mental health organisations have commented on the well-being effects of the Green Gym. They say that people have a natural biological attraction to nature, which is often referred to as biophilia. Connecting with the natural environment can have therapeutic benefits and can significantly lower stress levels. Not only that, it can improve physical health too.
So, going to the gym on a regular basis can have a great effect on your health and body. But it comes at a cost. For the discerning environmentalist, using a gym may be an acceptable option, but it is always a good idea to check that the establishment has an environmental policy, with aims and objectives clearly stated.
Responsible gym operators offer a valuable service to the public and at the same time respect the environment. But a better gym may be one that is completely free, yet offering as much, and perhaps more, benefit as a conventional gym. Try the natural way to exercise – you might find that you keep that New Year’s resolution!