Why would anyone pay for a gym membership when you can work out at home for free? It can be hard to argue against that logic. But according to a new study, working out at a gym doesn’t just put a hole in your wallet — it could actually make you healthier than those who opt to work out at home.
According to Time magazine, a study released by Iowa State University scientists found that someone is 14 times as likely to meet the recommended weekly physical activity guidelines if they have a gym membership. They are also more likely to have lower resting heart rates, higher cardiorespiratory fitness and smaller waist circumferences.
The researchers were able to determine this by tracking 405 relatively healthy adults, half of who had been members of a gym for at least 30 days and half who hadn’t been members for at least three months. They measured everyone’s blood pressure, heart rate and body mass index and had all participants fill out questionnaires about how many times per week they spent exercising, sitting and doing activities.
Responses from their test group were then compared alongside the national recommended guidelines for physical activity — 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. The results made it clear that being a member of a gym made for healthier people.
Study author Duck-chul Lee told Time that one of the reasons for this is that when people work out at home they likely don’t have the same type of equipment available. For instance, most people who exercise without a gym membership most likely cycle, run outside or on a treadmill or do some sort of yoga or Pilates, but they may not have weights or resistance training equipment. While they are getting the necessary aerobic activity, they may not meet the guidelines for strength training.
“At the gym, you can use the weights or the resistance machines,” Lee explains. “In real-life, there aren’t a lot of day-to-day activities that improve muscle.”
Another finding that surprised the authors was that they assumed that gym members would be more sedentary in their off time than non-gym members, due to the “I already got my workout in, so why be any more active” type of rationale, but this wasn’t the case. “Physical activity outside of the gym was the same for both groups,” he says. “For non-members, joining a gym really may increase overall activity levels.”
If you still need more reasons to join a gym, there are the social benefits as well. The American College of Sports Medicine points out that working out with a buddy, partner or group is a great way to stay motivated. There is also the fact that you are more likely to get distracted working out from home due to distractions like children, work issues or phone calls, while at the gym you can tune everything out.
Just keep in mind that joining a gym won’t transform your health overnight — you actually have to go regularly to reap the benefits. But lead author Elizabeth Schroeder hopes that the results of this study will encourage more people to join.
“Some people may enjoy being at a gym and doing their own workout routine, while others may desire group classes that potentially foster a social aspect, fun environment, consistent schedule and a workout designed for you,” she says. “Either way, they both involve accumulating physical activity, and that’s the goal.”