Sometimes, being interviewed has a way of crystalizing your thoughts. Take for example the interview I did with, for their newsletter, Inside Track. At one point, “democratize fitness” just popped out of my mouth. I realized that is really what I’m about: fitness of, by, and for the people.

How I got here is a whole other story. Stay tuned for that!

But in this post, I want to tell you the story of what happened after that interview was published.

Fitness should be within reach of everyone. Democratize it!

Fitness should be within reach of everyone. Democratize it!

What Is the Democratization of Fitness?
First, a brief explanation of what I mean by democratic fitness. Paraphrasing the dictionary, I mean that everyone has the equal right to the means of getting fit; they have the right to access fitness opportunities. This is why the emphasis on health clubs and gym memberships and dependency on personal trainers irks me. Not that people who can afford such things should be denied them—rather, there should be affordable alternatives for those who can’t afford the time or the money.

Do you believe it’s reasonable to expect the average person to squeeze in a trip to the gym on the recommended 3-5 days a week? I don’t. Who’s got time to get to the gym, change into workout clothes, do a workout, shower, change into their street clothes, get back to work or home?….that’s about a 3-hour commitment.

The same thing with the money—who’s got enough for a typical gym membership these days?

To be sure, there are some affordable gyms and classes: For example, in New York City, where I base my life and business, the Department of Recreation and Parks has a wonderfully affordable plan for people to use their recreation centers, many of which have been updated and upgraded. But still the vast majority of people don’t take advantage.

Beyond money, beyond time, there’s this: a lot of people may say they don’t like “exercise” and they resist adding it to their lives … but what they really don’t like is the gym! So many people have swallowed the idea that fitness = going to the gym. As human beings we naturally want to move our bodies—we were born to move, just as we were born to think. We just need to find a way of moving that feels good, that we like. Who can blame someone for not wanting to spend their precious time on earth in endless, meaningless treadmill walking, weight lifting or resistance machine repetitions? ZZZZZZZZZ….

Who needs weights?

Who needs weights? some good walking shoes, your bodyweight, a park bench or other park feature, and some creativity are all you need.

Does it surprise you that, according to statistics from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association’s 2012 Global Report on the State of the Health Club Industry, in the US, only 17% of the total population are health club members, and in Europe, only 10% of the population are members in the majority of countries. Once they join, many don’t go there. And this, after how many decades of promotion by private and public health advocates?

The Outdoor Alternative
Hundreds of “regular people” have gone through my outdoor fitness programs. In my interview, I talked about my belief that a whole bunch more people would be able to fit fitness into their lives if it involved exercising outdoors. If it was as simple as walking briskly in a park, and adding a few exercises to strengthen and stretch their bodies; if it was available to them in the context of a friendly group. And how about making the training to lead the groups available to the average person? You, your mother, your best friend, your neighbor, your co-worker—anyone could form their own little groups of people they wanted to spend time with, and set up a regular schedule of walks plus Nancercize in a nearby park.

Imagine hundreds or thousands of fitness community or clubs across the country—made of people, not buildings, using what’s already there, not needing specialized equipment?

One of the best ways to put your ideas out there and to test the waters is through social media. So, I decided to post the interview on the pages of several of my LinkedIn groups. I’ll let you know what they said in my next blog post. In the mean time…

What do YOU think? Do you agree we can and should simplify fitness? How? What do you do to keep fit? Would get be more active if you didn’t feel as though you had to go to the gym to “work out”? I’d love to hear from you, and so would my other readers.

2 Responses to “Democratizing Fitness: Part 1 – Getting Back to Basics”

  1. You’re right on the button Nancy. I couldn’t agree more. We’ve also been fighting to make fitness accessible to all. There’s certainly no need to go to a gym to become fit and I resent the fact that many gyms would have you think otherwise. I stop just short of saying “fitness is a right,” but that’s something to be discussed. Personally, I’ve been working out in the great outdoors ever since I was a little kid. Mostly I go to city parks, but sometimes I exercise while waiting for the subway…or in the middle of the street. I also lead a very reasonably priced outdoor boot camp – Beastanetics – and offer weekly pay what you wish classes. Looking forward to reading your next post.


    • Thanks for your comment, Tim. Jump rope is a great way to exercise outdoors, and it translates well to the indoors when the weather turns ugly. What I’m proposing is that access to ways to be fit are a basic right, like access to other necessities of good health, like clean air, clean water, and wholesome food. But perhaps that’s my public health background talking. It’s not practical or necessary to build gym facilities for everyone, but we could have enough parks within walking distance of everyone.


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