There are many ways to spin a spin bike!

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I wonder when we started to believe this was the best way to be physical active? I also wonder if these women would be happier doing anything else right now.

You may love them or you may hate them.  You may see them a torture devices or perhaps a means to an endorphin saturated high.  Either way, spin bikes or treadmills or elliptical machines, found in most gyms and some living rooms, may not result in the fitness euphoria you only read about on fitness blogs.  A spin bike is not just a spin bike if you have a negative association with exercise, fitness centres, and the people who line up to be brutalized and punished by high intensity workouts, extremely loud music, and drill sergeants passing themselves off as fitness instructors (no judgement).

In graduate school, my thesis research examined the barriers to exercise participation and I spent a year interviewing and talking to women of all ages who struggled with exercise participation. They felt strongly that the gym environments (the equipment, the smells, the fitness people dressed in all that lycra spandex) were for the fit people and they had no business being there.  They were intimidated by the mirrors (all those mirrors), the dumbbells dropping and clanging on the floor, and the pace at which most fitness classes took.  I soon began to understand that the majority of people considered the fitness environment and everything it stood for a scary and unwelcoming place.  Moreover, the act of riding a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill was as enjoyable as standing in the line up for a really popular Disneyland ride in the sweltering heat (without the fast pass).  The only motivation they spoke of was the kind inspired only by a desire to look like those lycra spandex people around them (and as we know…that ain’t the good kind).

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Some see this as play time while others view it as torture.  Research in exercised psychology has suggested that gym environments can have negative effects on our mental health while activity outdoors can provide us with positive benefits.

A spin bike isn’t just a spin bike when you equate it with the self-disgust, body shame, and everything else that motivates us to get on one and spin until we barf up a lung.  A spin bike may represent everything we don’t like about ourselves or the punishment we deserve for enjoying that birthday cake at the office party.  It may represent the nasty side of our culture that promotes diets, thinness, and physical perfection. What’s more cruel, we may work tirelessly towards body acceptance and intuitive movement and wake up one morning to a gift of exercise from a well-intentioned spouse taking the form of an exercise torture device all our own or a membership at the local fitness club  (Bless their pointy little heads).

From someone who has spent the majority of her life working in gym, I now firmly believe the gym setting can negative influence our body image and our sense of self. Most fitness centres insidiously promote social comparison and, in turn, self-loathing, over exercise, and a lifestyle chasing something that no one can achieve (physical perfection).  This may sound harsh and you may think this is an unfair evaluation of the gym environment, but I’ve seen good intentions turned bad so many times if I were paid $1 for each, I would be running my own health promotion centre and charging free admission.

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Now, consider exercise outdoors and that’s another story. Research underlines the mental and physical benefits of taking it outside. Ride a real bike, walk on a real trail, strengthen your balance and core by walking the logs at the beach (if you have a beach). Take in the air, the sights, the sounds, the people, the dogs; take in real life. No one ever went out for a walk in the woods and regretted it….(at least those that found their way back to tell about it….kidding…sort of).

Go outside!

Kathi

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