Exercise and income disparity

The comments from my last post brought to light a topic that I had been meaning to address at some point. India has a huge income disparity. While India does not have the most significant income disparity of any country, many people would certainly agree that there is room for improvement.

If you are interested in seeing how India stacks up, I think that the graphs on Pages 43 and 45 of this Columbia University paper show a good visual representation of how the income gap in India has expanded over the last few decades and how it stacks up compared to several other nations. This paper from Harvard University does a good job of examining why the income disparity in India has grown over the past few decades. Pretty interesting stuff. Or I am pretty nerdy.

A more simplistic analysis, completed by visiting several neighborhoods throughout Chennai, will give a good visual representation of what these researchers have determined. There are some extremely rich people here as well as many extremely poor people. There is also a growing middle class, and even, dare I say, upper middle class.

So what does this have to do with exercise?

In my world, this huge gap between the wealthy/”very” upper middle class and the much larger numbers of very poor people leaves me somewhere in between. I am living in an apartment (thank you Corporate America) that I would never be able to afford on my own and faced with the prospect of either a major change in diet or impossibly large grocery bills.

Suddenly this concept of income disparity in India, which was once this vague idea in a land far, far away is now hitting very close to home.

I do not want to appear insensitive to the extremely poor people whose lives are truly affected by this income disparity, I guess what I am driving at here is how lucky I am to usually live in a country where income differences do not have nearly the same impact on day-to-day life as they can here.

Ok, really, what does this have to do with exercise?

Earlier this week, I visited several gyms, hoping to join one. Between traffic, temperature, and crowded streets, outdoor running isn’t exactly ideal here, so I knew that if I wanted to continue to run that a gym membership would be in order.

After a somewhat lengthy and confusing search, I located three gyms that were within 20 minutes of my house. For some reason gyms do not seem to be all that popular in this town.

  • Gym #1 was no longer a gym, it is now a really nice yoga studio. I kind of want to join. Surely I would become some kind of yoga expert if I practiced in India for a few months.
  • Gym #2, a beautiful, modern facility, full of Life Fitness equipment and a sparkling clean locker room. I was sold. Until I heard the price. Over $100/month – per person. Ouch.
  • Gym #3 was pretty crummy. Like it made my high school weight room look good. I may have joined anyway if the price had been right, but it too had a price tag of over $100/month/person.

Keep in mind that our gym in Indiana is $70/month for a family. I realize that in theory we could probably figure out how to make it happen if it was a high enough priority, but I’m still suffering from major sticker shock. That is really, really, expensive! 

I’m left to wonder if this is yet another effect of the huge income disparity in India. These gyms weren’t exactly short on members, but I would not hesitate to assume that the vast majority of residents of Chennai could not even consider joining either of these gyms.

I’m so glad that I shipped my bike and I wish that Chris had taken me more seriously when I talked about shipping the treadmill too.

Welcome to my new gym. It is pretty fabulous with air conditioning, two overhead fans, a personal flat screen television for each piece of equipment, free towel service, and my own shower that I can keep my products in 24/7.

It looks like New Rules of Lifting for Women will be suspended for a while. Instead, I will be looking to “GI Jane” at Walk a Mile in My Boots for workout inspiration. I did her pyramid workout yesterday after my bike ride and it was killer!

Before I go, I wanted to show off my super high-tech iPod holder.

I bet someone makes an actual device that you can use to attach your iPhone to your bike, but I don’t have one, this plastic bag was the best thing I could come up with based on my limited resources here.

I had to stop using pockets on clothing for iPod storage during indoor workouts a few months ago when I “killed” my third iPod in as many years with overexposure to condensation. Gross, I know. Anyway, I can’t afford to let my iPhone meet that same fate.

I should own an armband for it, but for some reason I don’t yet. I wonder if I can get one tomorrow at the Wal-Mart-like Indian superstore?

  1. Funny thing is, this is so easy to explain! In the United States, people buy gym memberships and then don’t go.

    In India, people who buy gym memberships use them. As a result, they’re more expensive.

    Back in the US, everybody whose doctor tells them “You should exercise, just 20 minutes, 3 times a week” goes and signs up at the local rec center or Lifetime Fitness. Then, maybe for 3 weeks, maybe for 6 weeks, or maybe never again, they use the place for a total of an hour a week.

    So all those people are subsidizing the gym memberships of really active gym rats. Rent, personnel, equipment, power, maintenance are all spread over way more people than actually use the gym. I heard once that if everyone who signed up at a popular NYC gym showed up in one day, they wouldn’t even fit in the building, shoulder to shoulder.

    In India, joining a gym is a real commitment to fitness, and as a result, most people who sign up, take it seriously. So despite lower costs of everything, without those subsidizing slackers (you know them, the folks who crowd your gym halls every January) Indian gym owners have to hike the price!

    • Brit said:

      That makes a lot of sense. Too bad for me. I think we will end up joining that yoga studio and that the bike will become my main form of cardio.

  2. Anonymous said:

    Brittany. my husband was able to get a blackberry holder for his motorcycle so I’m sure you can find something. Try a bike or motorcycle store ( or duct tape!)

    • Brit said:

      Great idea! There are tons of two-wheelers here and everyone has a cell phone. I bet a scooter accessory store is my ticket to a bike mounted iPhone holder!

  3. Heidi Nicole said:

    Buckets – that is a lot for a gym membership! You definitely thought ahead with shipping the bike over. Heck, join the yoga studio and you’ll end up a biking yogi who forgot how to run! 😉

    • Brit said:

      That’s what I thought!

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