woman at the gym deciding if she can afford the membership

“I feel like fitness is a luxury at the moment”: 3 women on how the cost of living crisis is impacting their health and wellbeing

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Energy bills, the weekly food shop, a meal out with friends and a trip to the gym. With the price of just about everything rising, many women are having to choose between their fitness and other life necessities. We spoke to three women who are beginning to feel that fitness has become a luxury. 

“I just don’t know if I can afford it right now.” This was the WhatsApp reply I received from a friend earlier this week when I asked her if she wanted to try a new local barre class with me.

And she’s not the only one who is deliberating whether or not she can afford to pay for her fitness right now. With the cost of living steadily rising in the UK, more and more women are finding themselves facing a difficult decision: should they continue shelling out for a monthly gym membership or will they need to use that money to pay off their steadily increasing bills. 

After all, it’s not as though our necessary expenses are only going up by a few pounds – the cost of living in the UK is rising by a staggering amount.

Inflation, a figure measured by the consumer prices index (CPI), rose by 0.8% in February 2022 – that’s the biggest jump in prices since 2009. Fuel bills are set to go up by an average of £693 this month. Food, petrol and rent are also on the rise. And as of this month, many businesses – including some gyms – will find themselves paying more on VAT, which consumers may see reflected in prices. Some gyms, such as The Gym Group, which owns over 200 gyms across the UK, have already announced that they will be increasing membership prices to offset their own energy bill increases.

Everything, it seems, is costing more and more. With all of the eye-watering bills we have to pay this month and no noticeable increase in the average salary, fitness has begun to feel like an unattainable extravagance for many young women.

Reya, 22, London

“I refuse to workout at home,” states Reya, a 22-year-old student living in London. “It’s impossible to get the same results, plus I’ve got, like, four housemates always breathing down my neck.”

The gym was the only place where Reya could carve out space and time to exercise properly. But over the past few weeks, Reya has been shocked at how quickly the cost of living has increased. “Our energy bill was huge. My weekly food shop was huge. It’s all just adding up so much faster.”

She decided to pause her gym membership for the foreseeable future. How will she get her exercise? “I’m not sure,” she says after a pause. “I might just have to put that on hold, too.” 

Leanne, 24, Kent

For Leanne, a 24-year-old living in Kent, the gym became a kind of sanctuary in her post-lockdown life. “I really hated having to workout at home during the pandemic,” she says. “I did it because otherwise I’d literally be sitting at my desk all day – unless I went for the same boring walk everyday.”

When Leanne finally got to go to the gym after lockdown, it was like getting a whole new lease of life. “Suddenly I had all this equipment to use. I could work out around other people. I could start properly building up my strength,” she recalls. “It was amazing.”

However, when she got her latest energy bill, she suddenly realised her gym membership was simply no longer a feasible expense. “I ended up leaving my gym membership last week,” she says sadly. “I’ve gone back to working out at home like we’re in lockdown again. I’ll be honest, it really, really sucks.”

Not only does returning to home workouts mean that Leanne has to say goodbye to the physical benefits of going to the gym, she also has to bid farewell to the mental benefits, too. “It was my happy place. And now it’s just gone again,” she says.

Louise, 27, London

“Bills for sure are going up and I’ve also noticed the price of food rising,” says Louise, a 27-year-old actor and yoga teacher in London. 

“I wish I could afford a gym membership, but I can’t.” Instead, she does drop-in swim sessions and has a discounted membership at Oru, the yoga studio where she teaches. “If I wasn’t a teacher, I don’t think I’d be able to pay for it right now,” she says. “With prices rising, I actually don’t think I would be able to continue if I had a full-priced membership.”

For Louise, fitness has begun to feel almost inaccessible. “I think fitness feels like a luxury and it shouldn’t be, especially now that so many people are working remotely,” she says. “We don’t move nearly as much as we used to. It’s so detrimental – physically and mentally. So, it shouldn’t be a luxury but for me it feels like it. It’s so wrong.”

Are we looking at a future where fitness is only for the elite?

What happens when life becomes so expensive that even a modest gym membership becomes an extravagance? We’re about to find out. The cost of living is rising rapidly and dramatically in the UK. Many young women are already having to cut back on their expenses – and no, I’m not just talking about avocado toast and flat whites.

Fitness should not be reserved for the wealthy – it should be accessible to everyone. But, as living costs go up, wages stay stagnant and belts are tightened, it’s looking like fitness is quickly being transformed from a vital part of a healthy life to an unattainable perk for the wealthy. And that is dangerous.

As Louise put it, “Wellness is clearly taking a backseat in the government’s eyes. We’re living, breathing humans who should be moving our bodies every day – and no one should feel that they can’t afford it.”

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Images: Getty

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