Gym Membership: Good for You, Bad for the Environment?

While many Americans’ resolutions have come and gone, there will always be some who stick with the resolution to be healthier. With healthcare costs and unemployment up, many citizens are taking their health into their own hands, looking to benefit their wallets and their waists. While most are well intentioned, what some exercisers don’t realize is that by going to the gym and jumping on a piece of exercise equipment they may be helping their bodies but harming the environment.

Many exercisers find that running on a treadmill is easier, and therefore more preferable, than running outdoors. With predictable indoor weather, no wind resistance or the need for SPF, treadmills can be an easy first step for those who are just beginning their quest for health and aren’t looking for too much planning. Those who face seasonal allergies or live in cold temperatures seem to have no option but to remain indoors for their workouts. There is also a sense of encouragement from joining a gym. By getting on the treadmill at their local club, they are now a part of a group who strive to be healthy. While the treadmills these gym-goers choose appear to be rather simple machines that wouldn’t require high amounts of power, one treadmill can burn the equivalent of fifteen 75-Watt light bulbs while in use. Most people would never want to have five lights on in their house, let alone fifteen, yet most people have no problem using a treadmill.

While most treadmills are not constantly running, treadmills and other equipment still use energy while in standby mode. Some local gyms are also crowded enough that their machines are in almost constant use, burning large amounts of energy. The temperature raises in the gym, causing the use of fans and air conditioning in addition to the level that it is constantly running at. The lights at most gyms are consistently on and using electricity, even if no one is working out. The soda vending machine alone at your local gym can use about 10 times the amount of a home refrigerator. When you begin to add all of the costs together, our gyms are slowly leaving a large carbon footprint on the Earth.

Some gym owners are doing their part to minimize the impact their gyms have on the environment while maximizing the impact they have on your health. Green gyms such as the Green Microgym in Portland, Oregon, use specialized workout equipment to generate electricity. Stationary bikes in the Microgym use leg movement along with specialized hand cranks to generate about 200 watts of electricity. This is enough electricity to power a stereo, a 37 inch L.C.D. television and a laptop for as long as the bikes are being pedaled. “It’s an example of what a community can do to conserve energy, even if it’s a drop in the bucket,” Adam Boesel, founder of Green Microgym, said.

While humans can’t begin to power the world by exercising, facilities like the Microgym are doing their part to minimize the damage caused by their equipment. The future may hold more green gyms, complete with aerobics rooms with energy producing floors such as those found in green nightclubs like Club4Climate, and machines that fully power the entire gym as the technology such as that used by Green Microgym evolve. Only time will tell as further studies are being conducted on how to efficiently harness energy from humans while exercising on equipment to produce energy.

It is estimated that running outdoors burns about 5 percent more calories than running indoors. While it seems a small amount now, five percent can really add up, especially when you’re reaching your last few pounds to lose. A large difference that you can make in your wallet and your carbon footprint now is to simply run outdoors instead of on a treadmill. As long as you have shoes and a road, your workout is free. For those who use elipticals for lower impact on their joints, talk to your doctor about low impact activities like walking or swimming. These changes can lead to a great decrease in your carbon footprint and can help you rediscover the beauty of the great outdoors. If you must workout inside, aim to join a “green gym,” such as Green MicroGym in Portland, Oregon. While these small steps might not save the world, every bit can help, even if it is just a drop in the bucket.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user milkshakepants.

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Published in: on February 16, 2009 at 10:34 am Comments Off on Gym Membership: Good for You, Bad for the Environment?

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