“Gymming karta hai ji” accused the mother of my patient, a young boy with vague pain abdomen. Suppressing a smile I told her that she should be happy that he is active and cares about his health. My words unleashed a deluge of emotion. She wondered why he ran for an hour on the treadmill but used his car for errands in the neighbourhood, why he thought lifting a sack of rice would strain his back but barbells won’t, why he preferred to sweat out in the stuffy gym instead of a refreshing walk to the fields
Her lament makes sense in rural India where the outdoor air is still crisp and gym hygiene is questionable. As more and more Indians join the to fitness crusade every vacant hall has been transformed into a gym and everybody with a ‘body’ has become a trainer. Since this sector is unregulated there is no science and little art involved. The result is young boys and girls pumping iron and thumping treadmills, toiling for that perfect body without a clue. Using ridiculous amounts of protein supplements and even anabolic steroids to hasten progress. Exercising without proper form and technique can do more harm than good, specially when unprepared bodies are forced through its rigours. It can wear down knees, pull muscles and strain spines. Moreover stuffy rooms without proper ventilation are a breeding ground for infection.
But all is not bad. With few cycling and pedestrian tracks, vanishing open spaces and untamed beasts ( natural and man made! ) on our roads, some indoor activity is better than none. It is heartening then, that fitness is trending. More encouraging is the fact that the clientele of gyms is changing. It is not only the teenager vying for the chiseled body or the bride-in-waiting striving to lose extra pounds before matchmaking begins. It is not only the desperate new mom trying to shed the extra tyres or the balding man with a lifestyle disease. It is also the apparently healthy people who have made it a part of their routine. It is about being a part of a community, a little me time away from life’s responsibilities. An empowering cocoon of privacy, of self indulgence.
It is because of this trend that single sex gyms (read female only) are a rage in smaller towns. A place where women can bare their batwings and jiggle their tummies without self consciously worrying about the male gaze. Although more and more women opt for trendy sportswear it is not uncommon to spot them sweating out in their night suits or the more acceptable salwar kameez. The impromptu social networking is an escape from domestic drudgery, somewhat like a hen party, but with health benefits. Mindless chitchat intermingles freely with grunts and heaves over shoulder presses. Common goals and shared post-workout snacks further sweeten the deal. Part kitty group, part muscle shrine!
This is quite different from the swanky gym chains of metropolitan cities with qualified trainers, nutritionists and counsellors. Equipped with modern machines and boasting of latest exercise routines, they are impersonal but perhaps more effective in unleashing the lean, mean you. And for those city slickers who don’t know where to begin, Physiogyms are the newest addition where the body is prepared for the gym, a sort of preschool to fitness.
And now the million dollar question, do we really need gyms ? Don’t we Indians get enough exercise throwing our weight around, running around in circles and dodging responsibility. The sad truth is that with our cities becoming gas chambers, we desperately need gyms to shape up an unfit country. We are facing an epidemic of lifestyle diseases like hypertension and obesity. India has the highest number of Diabetics in the world. Indians need gyms, to workout and be fighting fit…….so that they can throw their weight around, run around in circles and dodge responsibility with greater strength and ease !
Dr Manju Gupta is a gynaecologist who plays doctor in Gharaunda, a small town of Haryana
( published in Metro Plus of the Hindu on 10/2/2018)