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Should Gyms be Publicly Funded?

How many of you kicked off 2023 with a New Year’s resolution to get to the gym more?

How many of you are now stuck with year-long gym memberships, when in reality you probably haven’t set foot through the gym doors since the 2nd of January?

While skipping out on our resolutions is probably disappointing, it doesn’t compare to the hundreds of pounds now down the drain.

But what about those ‘picking up the dumbbell’, as it were, throughout the year?

What about people with fitness goals that perhaps can’t afford to shell out nearly fifteen pounds a day to visit Better gyms?

The better question is, why isn’t one of the most effective ways to combat mental illness and improve our physical health regarded as healthcare?

And why aren’t gyms, therefore, publicly funded?

What are the benefits of regular exercise?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 'few lifestyle choices have as large an impact on your health as physical activity’.

For children aged 6-13, the short-term benefits of exercise include improved cognition, and decreased anxiety levels in adults.

Over time, regular exercise can improve brain function, and help maintain rational and logical skills as you age, keeping you sharp.

It also has been shown to decrease the risk of, and reduce anxiety and depression.

In terms of physical health, exercise helps us to lose excess weight, and may encourage us to be more mindful with our diets, as we prioritise fitness goals and seeing results.

What is the risk to gyms?

A 2022 survey from UK Active shows that 40% of council leisure centres and swimming pools are at risk of closure by March 2023. Next month.

Only 26% of polled gyms said that they are financially secure enough to avoid closure by the end of March.

Keswick’s leisure pool was closed in June 2021, with Allerdale Borough Council commenting that ‘recent investigations have shown that the cost of re-opening the pool’ - following the coronavirus pandemic - ‘would make it financially unviable’.

The article goes on to estimate a rough cost of just under £400,000 to re-open the gym to a suitable standard, and highlights that the pool was already running at a loss of over £250k/year.

This closure has forced swimmers to travel to Workington, Cockermouth, and Penrith, further making gym facilities inaccessible.

The average person burns 423-715 calories an hour swimming, making this one of the most effective forms of exercise.

Swim England has stated that over 100 public pools around the country will face this same fate in 2023.

What is the government doing to help?

The government has recognised that one of the most pressing issues facing gyms and fitness centres is the rising energy costs.

They proposed a review of the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, which supported businesses and households for six months in 2022.

However, the effects of this review will not be felt until April, and the findings of the bill will not be published until the end of this year.

The scheme recognises ‘barriers to businesses absorbing increased energy costs’, and aims to ‘incentivise businesses to increase the efficiency of their energy consumption’.

Unfortunately, it further states that ‘there will be a very high bar for businesses to receive continued government support’, and that ‘beyond 2023, the scale of support the government can offer will be significantly lower’.

While governments may be able to help businesses ‘shock absorb’ rising energy costs, the support available will be minimal and short-term.

Critically, this support will not be available until April at the earliest - by which point, 40% of leisure centres may have been forced to close.

Should gyms be publicly funded?

It may be controversial to argue that, in a period of austerity, ‘luxury’ experiences such as going to the gym or for a swim should receive public funding.

An investigation by the Times has found that providing free gym memberships to people between 16-24 would cost the government £26.4 million, but only if every individual in that bracket joined a gym.

The article highlights the need to increase the amount of physical exercise in young people, and increase accessibility to gym facilities in order to prevent cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and forms of cancer in later life.

The scheme has the backing of the former CEO of the NHS: Sir Simon Stephens, demonstrating that the scheme is viable in terms of strain on the NHS, and is actively supported by it.

The Take-Away

We are all aware of the benefits of exercise on our bodies and brains. Young people, especially now, and people across the UK need access to gym facilities to fully reap these benefits.

It’s backed by the NHS, and it’s backed by science.

Is it backed by you?

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