With the new year, health, wellness, weight loss, and exercise programs will be in mass promotion. Just because someone looks good doesn’t mean that what they’re pitching is healthy or will even work. Watch out for unrealistic claims and results.
Today’s guest is Natalia Petrzela. Natalia is a historian of contemporary American politics and culture. She is also an author and podcast host. She is a frequent media guest expert, public speaker, contributor to international domestic news outlets, including New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN. She is an associate professor of history and holds a BA from Columbia as well as a Masters and PhD from Stanford.“A lot of people are getting their health and fitness advice not because somebody is the leading scientist in that realm but because they have really great abs and a lot of followers on Instagram.” - Natalia Petrzela Click To Tweet
- [0:56] – Welcome to the show! Natalia explains what she does and how she has gotten into current trends in American wellness.
- [2:42] – The way health has been looked at has changed drastically over the years.
- [4:21] – American fitness culture is very focused on an all-or-nothing mentality.
- [5:40] – Because wellness and fitness is commercialized in the United States, consumers are targeted to buy.
- [7:02] – Natalia compares the current trend in intermittent fasting to the past trend of eating throughout the day.
- [8:15] – Before the 1960s, there was very little research around exercise.
- [11:01] – We equate appearance with health but not just anyone is an expert.
- [12:32] – There are many people who take performance enhancing drugs casually that may make them appear as the picture of health.
- [15:03] – Watch out for products being sold to you and extreme promises that are unrealistic.
- [18:01] – It is so easy to become completely obsessed with health.
- [19:39] – Many people say that their way is the only successful way to be healthy.
- [21:33] – Natalia discusses the difference in income and careers that impact views on health and fitness.
- [23:53] – Any type of extreme promises should be looked at with a great degree of skepticism.
- [24:57] – The whole weight loss industry is predicated on the reliance that you will gain it back.
- [27:41] – It is great that more people are exercising regularly, but now there’s this pressure to sustain something that is stressful to maintain for many.
- [29:53] – Natalia discusses gym memberships.
- [31:04] – Be realistic about what you can start integrating into your day to day life.
- [32:51] – There is a current trend in specialized exercise and fitness. Unless you love it already, be wary of signing on to just one type of fitness.
- [36:14] – The pandemic has changed a lot of views on health and fitness and the availability of home exercise.
- [38:01] – Just because something works for someone else, doesn’t mean it will be right for you.
- [39:53] – How much research can you really do when there are so many products and unqualified “experts” giving advice.
- [42:04] – Our healthcare system is not currently set up for optimal health.
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- Natalia Petrzela Web Page
Can you give me and the audience a little more background on who you are and what you do?
Sure. My name is Natalia Petrzela. I'm a historian of modern American culture and politics. Most recently, I have spent a long time researching American fitness culture, how we became a country so obsessed with working out and wellness, even though working out and wellness isn't really accessible to a lot of Americans. That's what gets me excited about work every day.
That's awesome. It was funny, I was just recently recording an episode on travel. We were talking about what makes Westerners a target or obvious that you're American and one of those things is if you're overweight you're probably American.
Yes, but then also I thought you were going to say something else. I was living in France a couple of years ago and this mom comes up to me at drop-off, and she's like, “Oh, are you American?” I said, “Yeah, how did you know?” She's like, “Because you're wearing athletic clothing not to do exercise.” So it kind of cuts both ways.
I've heard that one also. Americans either don't exercise or they announce that they exercise.
Right. Sometimes both at the same time, which is an interesting paradox.
That it is. Let's talk about the health and fitness culture in the US, because I've grown up in Southern California and I'm not the most fit person. Hopefully, I'm not horrifically unfit either, but I've definitely seen Southern California so focused on health and wellness and the latest fads. Let's talk about some general health first and then we'll go into fitness. Let's talk about some of the historic health fads and then some of the current health fads.
One of the things that are super interesting as a historian is that I think as long as people have been alive, they've been interested in some ways in health and survival, but what that health looks like has changed a lot over time. If you look at even the past 100 years in American history, health and exercise and things that we unite today very closely—almost synonymously—were not actually linked at all.
Even if you go back as recently as the early 1950s, but even beyond that, people who worked out regularly—you’re in Southern California—those Muscle Beach characters, they were considered suspicious because they worked out. The idea was if you're building big muscles like that, you are literally muscle-bound, like you would be imprisoned by your muscles. Then anybody who spent that much time working on their bodies probably had something wrong with them because they weren't spending time on more cerebral pursuits and it could even be physically bad for you.
During the jogging craze in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there were all these doctors who were like, “It will kill you, you're overtaxing your heart. For women, you will not be able to have babies, your uterus is going to fall out.” One of the things I'm so interested in is today it's like, “Oh, you want to be healthy? Go exercise.” Whether you do it or not, people nod their heads like, “Yeah, that makes sense.” That is a relatively recent construction.
I don't remember jogging will kill you, but that's just funny that it's so much for culture, we do that kind of flip-flop of jogging is bad for you or jogging is the only thing you should be doing. Now I think we're probably realizing, if you're my age, it's going to hurt your knees. There are probably better things to do.I think so much of what's problematic in American fitness culture is that all-or-nothing mentality. -Natalia Petrzela, PhD Click To Tweet
I think you're so right. You started by talking about fads and you just said jogging is the only thing you should do. I think so much of what's problematic in American fitness culture is that all-or-nothing mentality and that sales pitch of, “If you want to be hot, healthy, and live forever, you must do this thing and only this thing.” Honestly, nothing satisfies that. So you end up in this pendulum swing of, “Oh, now everyone should do yoga. Oh, wait, yoga is really bad for you.” Probably moderation in most things is the right thing to embrace, but that tends not to sell so well.Probably moderation in most things is the right thing to embrace, but that tends not to sell so well. -Natalia Petrzela, PhD Click To Tweet
Is that kind of the issue? As Americans particularly, we're so instant gratification-focused. We're trying to—“I want to have a healthy lifestyle but I only want to do it in two minutes a day.”
Yeah. Before I criticize the attitudes of individual Americans, I think the bigger picture issue is that most health and fitness is available to us in a consumer marketplace. There's an incentive to differentiate your product and say it's the miracle cure and it's so amazing. There's this escalating competition of who can promise better returns. That's a big-picture context.
Yes, of course, people respond accordingly because all those companies have really great consumer behavior research. And yes, there's the desire of like, “Oh, I want to buy the thing that gets me abs in two minutes a day.” Or, “No, I heard the seven-minute one is good.” I think that those things feed on each other like a culture where health is a commodity and a product and where people basically talk to consumers rather than human beings or citizens.
Kind of the consumer versus partner.
Yeah, for sure. Or consumer versus citizen or consumer versus a member of a community.
What are some of the current fads in health and fitness?
There are a lot of things that people talk about. I'm really more an expert in fitness. I should say, in addition to being, like, a gym rat and a person with a PhD who studies this stuff as a cultural and historical phenomenon, I also have a fitness certification and I've taught fitness for many years, so I'm not just speaking as an outsider here.
But to start with the realm that I'm less expert in: the food domain. People talk a lot right now about intermittent fasting and what you should be doing. It's like only eating a certain number of hours a day and then not eating at all the other parts of the day. I'm not even evaluating the merits of this because I know people who are very happy with what that's done for them. I know that there's research that goes both ways on whether that actually is healthy in the long term.
But in my not-that-long lifetime, I remember the article of faith was like, “You need to eat all day.” I had this book, and it was a best-selling book. It was fist-sized protein every two hours and that's your ticket to health and beauty. Now we go totally the opposite direction.
Eat as much as you want in this eight-hour window and then you eat absolutely nothing. I do believe that science changes and there are real evolutions in what people believe. It's hard to take anyone seriously when the pendulum swings so far. That's just one example, I think, in the food realm.
I don't know if this fits in with your historian focus. Do you know why science seems to change so much? Is it cherry-picking, is it just not real science, or is there a bunch of paths to an end?
It is in my realm to the extent that I'm interested in the history of knowledge and how it gets made. I think one thing that's really interesting is that for a long time, and I mean up until maybe the late 1960s or so, there wasn't actually a huge body of research on what exercise would do for you. People were kind of shooting from the hip. There's this famous book called Jogging that came out in 1966, and it's credited with kicking off the beginning of the jogging phase in the US.
What is remarkable about it when you read it is there’s, like, no data in there. It's like, “Oh, this team does road work, and that works well for them. You should try this too.” There's a big change that happens a couple of years later when this military physician—and it's no accident that it's the military that starts to think really seriously about the body and science—Kenneth Cooper releases this book. It's called Aerobics. Not like Jane Fonda aerobics, but cardio, basically. He has done all these trials on what it does for your body to run, bike, and swim as opposed to lift weights or do calisthenics, which is basically how people thought of exercise before then.
That is mind-blowing and paradigm-shifting in terms of how people thought about exercise because, all of a sudden, it's like, “Oh, that's not going to strain your heart, that's good for you. The people who should be doing it are not just big muscle dudes on Muscle Beach. This is for a homemaker or a child,” and all of that.
That science evolved, and then later—I'm just picking some high points here—you start to see, especially in the 1990s, the resurgence of strength training having shed a lot of the negative baggage of, “Oh, it'll make you muscle-bound, it'll make you unattractive.” You start seeing scientific literature talking about how it's good for bone health. You see in the magazines a more muscular ideal comes out.
Why does science change? I'm optimistic enough to think that people are genuinely trying to figure out what's better for you. But there is definitely—I think in the fitness and health world—a lot of BS science out there. There's a lot of cherry-picking. There are a lot of people where if you scratch the surface and you look at what their degree is, it's actually not in the thing that they're weighing in on. A lot of people are paid by companies to make specific claims because it's still not really a super regulated space—the whole fitness world, and I think that's important.
The last thing I'll just say on that—you asked about changes in science, but unfortunately, I think a lot of people are getting their health and fitness advice not because somebody is the leading scientist in that realm, but actually because they have really great abs and they have a lot of followers on Instagram. I think we can't think about health in this country without thinking about how much we often very wrongly connect health to what we think the appearance of health is and give people the authority to give advice accordingly.
I'm not saying if you have a perfect six-pack you're not qualified to give fitness advice, but I don't think that qualifies you in itself at all. I think that's something that is worth being said.
I think that is one of the challenges in the health and fitness space is we equate appearance with health. If someone looks muscular and they look fit, then for some reason, that must equate to they're going to live a long life, they're not going to have health issues, and their knees aren't going to give out on them. Where appearance and what's going on inside are not always the same thing.
Absolutely. They're often not the same thing. I think just like science has changed, body ideals have changed too. Hopefully, we've evolved a little bit and decoupled a particular physical appearance with like, “Oh, that person must be healthy.” But we have a long, long way to go on that front.
There are lots of people who you would look at and let's just say they wouldn't be on the cover of Muscle & Fitness or any magazine for their health, but they actually are leading quite a healthful life and their health might be better than somebody. What’s something that's in the news a lot are these performance-enhancing drugs that especially men are taking to achieve that look of muscularity, that look that makes them look like the picture of health, but actually people died from taking those.
I think that's worth mentioning too on a general interest podcast, because I'm not talking about bodybuilders who are heavy steroid users. I'm talking about guys who are like, “I want to look sexy at the beach this summer and so I'm going to take this.” There's a lot more casual use of that these days. Yeah, the appearance of health that gives you is sometimes quite at odds with the actual health issues it can cause.
Yeah. I know when I was in college, the popular thing for weight loss, I suppose, was the ECA stack. The ephedra, caffeine, and aspirin. You take all these at the same time, then go work out, and then something magical happens chemistry-wise and you lose weight. Later on, it's like, “Oh, ephedra; it's going to cause significant issues.”
Totally. Oh my God, I'm not proud to say, when I was in high school I was taking—I remember the box was called Diet Fueled. It was like ephedra. We take it and go work out. I don't know if it was because I was 17 and so I was just really thin anyway or if it was not, but that was not a good road to go down and certainly was not health-promoting.
What are the things that we should be watching out for then? You think humans that are around so long you think we’d actually have done more science on ourselves and maybe less on the stars or something. It seems that the real legitimate science is still really emerging on what's good, what is healthy, what is good for longevity. What are the things that we should be watching out for that we know are definitely going to be causing problems?
It's such a great question. I think the first thing that you should look out for—and this is easy to look out for because it's part of our own worldview—is how much you are connecting appearance with health. How much are you believing what someone is saying or selling because they look the way you want to look or they look the way you think is healthy? Because that is a real red flag.
As someone who's worked in gyms her whole life, let me tell you, I understand why you want the fitness instructor to look the way you want to look. I understand that. But don't assume that because they look that way that they are healthy. I think that's an assumption that one should really evaluate oneself. Another thing that I think is really important to look at is any product that's being sold to you, ask yourself, “Who benefits from this? Who benefits from this? Who's selling this? What do they have to gain from it? What's the agenda here?” And also, what are the claims that they're making? Anybody who is making absolute claims about weight loss or about the unique power of one product to change your body or your health is probably completely full of it because we know—we know exercise is good for you, but we know it doesn't do anything unless it is combined with healthy eating and other kinds of lifestyle changes.
I think watching out for those really extreme promises is really, really important as well. Then we talked a little bit about scientific research. I do believe that you should evaluate the credentials of the people who are giving you advice. But I also think, to be honest, most of us don't have the time or the expertise to go back and read those original scientific studies.I do believe that you should evaluate the credentials of the people who are giving you advice. -Natalia Petrzela, PhD Click To Tweet
I have a PhD in history. I cannot go and read most peer-reviewed exercise physiology articles, nor do I have that much time or interest to do it. I say that because I think, especially at this moment, the whole idea of “I did my research” has been used in some really bad ways and we should be careful about that.
But I think that thinking about who's giving the advice, not just what they look like, but where their authority and their credentials come from, and the claims that they're making—those are a couple of really great ways to assess how you're spending your money, your time, and what you're doing to your body, which is so important.
I'm actually shocked often, and I'm not outside of this myself. This is our body, this is our life, and this is the most intimate and important part of us, and we're so willing and I'm not sure why. Because we want to look hot or be perceived as caring about our health. Do so much crazy experimentation on it. “Oh, I'm not going to eat 16 hours a day. That seems like a great idea. Let me get these supplements full of ephedra at GNC and pop them, let me try that.” It's pretty crazy how little care we often practice on this thing that we need to live on this earth.
It's funny because I know people who will spend ridiculous amounts of time. They're going to buy a new car, and they pick up all the leading magazines and read all the articles. They're comparing engine torque. They'll spend weeks or months making a decision on what kind of car they want to buy. But then it's like, “Oh, hey, I saw this new weight loss drug; I'm going to try it.”
Yeah, totally. I think it's so interesting. I talked to so many different audiences about this kind of stuff. You really have to know who you're speaking to and calibrate your message accordingly because, on the one hand, I think you're so right. So many people do all this research and are so careful about buying a car or computer, the school they're sending their children to, or whatever, and then are popping random weight-loss drugs.
On the other hand, we live in a culture where it can be so easy to get so obsessed with everything health-related. It's an affliction. It's called orthorexia where you are counting your macros, how many calories, what are my calibrations of sugar and protein, and all the rest? How am I working out? That's another form of obsession and a pathology.
Yeah, it's hard to know. I guess it gets back to the old Socratic claim to know thyself is being really important. But I think that like a little bit of introspection—as you embark on any of these projects—and spend your money on them and your time is really important.
It's almost a little bit more realistic like, “What are your goals and why are these your goals? Are you trying to be healthy or are you trying to look a particular way and being honest about what your goals are?”
Yeah, and that's really important. As a woman, I've thought about this really personally too and how much baggage that we often attach to like, “Oh, I was so bad today. I feel so guilty because I didn't exercise or because I ate something.” Something that I have found to be so liberating is really reflecting on that moral language around food and exercise.
It doesn't have to be that way. “OK, I ate a bunch of chocolate cake and now I don't look exactly the way I want to look. Now I have to make some changes.” It doesn't make me like a freaking failure or a bad person. You just move forward. I think we all are different in that way.
I'm 43 years old. It's taken me a while until I got to figure this stuff out. But I hear, again, people with good intentions pedaling their way are that way. For example, some people talk about intuitive eating as having saved their life. One perceptive intuitive eating is not calorie counting, not recording food, listening to your body, figuring out what it needs, and eating accordingly. Those people hate all of the food counter apps and all of those things.
I understand that. I think that's right for certain people who have become too preoccupied with that and have a constant voice in their head. I know other people for whom that is a pathway to binge eating and to totally losing control of what they put in their body, not in a way that you should be so super controlled, but it's just not the right solution for them.
With everything, even the things that claim to be really body positive and accepting, I'm like, “There is no one answer here, people. You’ve got to figure out who you are and your relationship to this stuff and navigate this really confusing marketplace, which is not really all that interested in your health. They're interested in selling you things.”
I guess that's also one of the dynamic things about it. Everybody's health situation is a little bit different. How active they are, what they do. I sit down at a desk for most of the day. Other people, if you're a FedEx driver, especially this time of year, you're running yourself ragged literally running carrying boxes all day long. What goes on in my head concerning food is going to be different than what goes on in somebody else's head. Then if you throw in health conditions on top of that, it really makes it a very dynamic environment.
Absolutely. Something else that I think is important to think about, not so much in terms of your personal health, but just thinking of this whole marketplace in this context is like a FedEx driver, an Amazon driver, or a warehouse worker. Not only is the nature of their work doing different from somebody who's sitting at the desk but also probably their range of options to exercise and to be healthy is also probably very different because they don't make a lot of money. They don't have a lot of control over the hours that they're working. They're doing physical labor, but that's not really exercise. It's like repetitive injury kind of labor.
That's something I've been really interested in thinking about too. Think about this often around running. There’s this myth that is really a lovely thought that all you need is motivation and a pair of sneakers to go outside. To an extent, that's true. You don't need a gym membership, et cetera, but let me tell you, depending on the neighborhood you live in and what body you live in, your ability to go hit the road and go for a jog is very, very different.
I think some of that super individualistic inspo is something to also be skeptical of because it's great to think all you need is to rally yourself and go outside, but not everybody has the same access to that. I am not going to feel bad about myself about missing a workout if it meant that I would have to go running after dark here through New York City because, sorry, as a woman, that is a lot worse to go do that than it is to miss a day working out. Different people have different challenges in that regard.
Let's go back. You talked about extreme promises from products. Let's talk about that and then let's talk about gym memberships because that is something that I always find very interesting.
Totally. What do you want me to say about extreme products?
To me, in my mind, I always think of the commercial of, “Oh, I use this product and I lost 200 pounds.” I'm like, “Over what time? How quickly did you lose that 200 pounds?” Because that could be really scary. What should be the red flags of, “Gee, that's not realistic.” They might have a person saying, “I did this. This was my result.” But where should we be going that's probably not the average consumer's response to this product is going to be?I think that any kind of extreme results we should look at with a degree of great skepticism. -Natalia Petrzela, PhD Click To Tweet
OK. I think that any kind of extreme results we should look at with a degree of great skepticism. The most frequent example of this is definitely around weight loss, where you see people who have these incredible transformations. They've lost 40, 60, or 100 pounds. You see the before and after pictures and you're like, “Oh my God.”
I actually think the extremeness of that is something to be doubted. I also think not just about weight loss, but when you hear people speaking about, “This changed my whole life. Once I got into this meal plan, I found a husband, a new job, and all this.” I do believe that when I ran a marathon, I felt so successful and proud that I felt like other things in my life did fall into place too, but I would be very skeptical about anyone who is selling you that kind of dramatic transformation, either of your body or your life.
This I often get yelled at when I say, but I think it's true. I would also be very skeptical of products that are specifically selling you weight loss. This isn't because I don't think that using them in the way that's directed will cause you to lose weight. Often it does, but the whole weight loss industry is predicated on the fact that you will gain it back.
Very, very few people are able to keep off big amounts of weight for any sustained period of time. Or if they're able to do it, they are able to do it with such a dramatic modification to their life that maybe it's worth it for them. I don't want to begrudge anyone that, but it's probably a lot harder than they're selling it to you in the ad.
With health and fitness things, it's OK to want to lose weight. A lot of people probably should lose weight to be a little bit healthier. But I think that I'm very skeptical of products that center weight loss as the outcome because, one, we hear that freaking messaging all the time and I'm sick of that. We should privilege other forms of being healthy, but I also think we know that people can't keep it off for a long time.
It's unfair to keep selling that ideal and making people feel like failures when they can't keep it off. To me, that's a very, very important part of it. Those kinds of extreme promises, and specifically those around weight loss, to me, are total red flags.Those kinds of extreme promises, and specifically those around weight loss, to me, are total red flags. -Natalia Petrzela, PhD Click To Tweet
Yes. “Take this product and you'll lose weight; you don't even have to work out.”
Right. Something for nothing? Forget about it. One of the things that have been so interesting as a historian is the days when women were really not encouraged to exercise, but of course, we're still supposed to look pretty. You saw that there were all of these, like—they called them slenderizing salons. The way that they advertise themselves was to relax in luxurious comfort, no sweating necessary. It was like a proto gym, but the whole idea was, like, passive exercise.
We even see things like that a little bit today with some of, like—there's still some of those vibrating belts and stuff that advertise it. It's not really work and it'll change your body. Newsflash: you usually have to work to create change in any aspect of your life.Newsflash: you usually have to work to create change in any aspect of your life. -Natalia Petrzela, PhD Click To Tweet
That's the tough thing. A while back, I started working with a personal trainer. One of my key things to him was, I want to do things that I can do for the rest of my life. Not that I don't want to work with you, but this needs to be sustainable and reproducible so that I don't have to have some $5000 piece of gym equipment to do. It's got to be stuff that I can do if I'm traveling. I need to sustain this, not have this—I'm not trying to lose weight for a wedding or look good for a wedding.
Yeah. That's such a good point. In some ways, I think it's really great that exercise culture has become so much a part of our life and that more people who are not interested in being in a bodybuilding show are like—that more people are exercising regularly. However, there's a side of it which is like, “Oh my God, this is now this pressure that everybody feels to work out all the time.”
There's a really great book by Barbara Ehrenreich about growing old. She's like, “When I retired, people were like, ‘Congrats, you have a new job. You now go to the gym every single day.’” She was like, “This is what I have to do to stave off death. Is it really worth it?” There's a mixed bag there, but I think you bring up a really good point that I think a positive thing to do is, as you avoid those quick fixes or those extreme promises is to think about, one, what's sustainable in your life, whether it's financially or in terms of your routine, and also, what do you like to do?
I do believe you need to sometimes work and really get uncomfortable to maintain your health. There's a good chance that if you hate doing the thing that you're doing, you're just not going to do it. I try and do some workouts that I'm not crazy about one or two times a week. I don't like a lot of doing some strength and flexibility work, I do it.
But let me tell you, I'm going to a dance class tonight because I know that unless it was a class I was really excited for, am I really going to go after work? It's snowing and 30 degrees outside. No, but I cannot wait to hit that dance floor even if that's not the thing that's the best for my bone density and whatever. I think it's figuring that out. Figuring out what you want and what you should be drawn to, as opposed to just warding off the scams, because there are a lot of scams out there. It’s more fun to look for the positive stuff.
One of the things I want to talk about is, while we're recording this in November, this episode is going to go live in January or should be live in January. That's the timeframe of every gym out there offering all sorts of programs. I've heard so many horror stories about gym memberships. What's your view on gym memberships?
It depends on what the horror stories are. For years, gyms often had a really hard time getting real estate and leases in nicer areas because what they were known to do is say that you were coming, sell a lot of presale memberships, and then never open and leave people in alert. That kind of speaks to that wild west of the fitness industry.Now, one of the indicators of an affluent neighborhood is the fitness business there because they're so tied with luxury. -Natalia Petrzela, PhD Click To Tweet
That's no longer really the case, actually. Now, one of the indicators of an affluent neighborhood is the fitness business there because they're so tied with luxury. January is coming. I can tell you as someone who has worked in gyms, there are always those employee email chains like, “People, get ready, the big rush is coming. Be nice to the newbies who are going to be dropping weights and not knowing what's going on.”
I always like that time of year, even though the gyms are super crowded and for people who are there all year. It's a little bit like,”Aall right, you're only going to last until February.” But I think it's exciting to see people be passionate about a new start and about trying to get a new healthy part of their routine in. In terms of what to be aware of, I would think hard about what you really can integrate into your life. That trendy new whatever studio that everybody's talking about might be offering a great deal. But if it's across town, are you really going to go there all the time?
In Southern California and where I am in New York City, the studio fitness industry has really struggled throughout the pandemic. By the way, I'm not saying don't support gyms. Gyms need your business right now, but support them in the way that you'll keep showing up there and not cancel after your first billing cycle. But I saw some studios who were offering very deep discounts for off-peak times like going at 5:30 AM or 2:00 PM.
Those deals can be super attractive, but again, does that fit into your life? Are you really going to get up at 4:45 AM to go to the gym because it's $10 less for that class? Maybe in California where it's warm all the time. Here, that's a much tougher proposition.
I think there are going to be a ton of deals, especially now that there's a lot more vaccination and I think people are more comfortable going into brick-and-mortar fitness. We know that people actually are going back into gyms, but I would be wary of signing onto deals that, no matter how excited you are about new year, new you, might not be sustainable to really be worth it.
And I also look at some of these places that are product-specific. We just do this type of—let's say it's rowing. We just do rowing. We have a bunch of rowing machines. We're a bunch of cycles only. If you haven't done that, you probably don't want to buy the two-year membership and then realize a month into it, “I don't like cycling. This is horrible.”
Yeah, I know. It's so true. There's been this real specialization in the industry in the last few years. Pre-pandemic, that was the big trend—these unique studios that are not only luxury anymore, but have, in some ways, much more affordable price points. Those businesses tend to, as you say, offer one thing. It's a spin studio or a bar studio, et cetera.
Some people find their thing and they're totally obsessed with it. To a certain extent, hey, if you love it, moving every day is probably better than not moving every day, so do your spin class every day. I think probably for optimal health, you want to mix up what you're doing. There are products that are aggregators that have you be able to have these collective memberships like ClassPass. It was just acquired by Mindbody, but ClassPass allows you to try out a bunch of places before you really fully commit.
We still have the big box gyms, which offer a whole bunch of things. I guess another tip that I have also is think about what will motivate you to get in the door. I actually quit my big box gym because I found that I was so busy that I'd either not go. I'd be like, “Oh, I'll go later. I could go, it's open all the time,” and then it’s, like, 10:00 PM. Or I'd be going for 25 or 30 minutes when I really know I should work out longer than that.
Now, it's a little bit more expensive. But when I'm on the hook for a prepaid class, I'm going. I'm too cheap to throw $40, $50 down the drain just because I'm scrolling Instagram or answering emails. You’ve got to know yourself. You really do.
We're talking about commercial fitness, but please, especially where you are, the great outdoors, come on. I actually hate running in the cold more than anything, but I have this friend and the only time that we hang out is to do these 6:00 AM runs for an hour and we're doing six-and-a-half, seven miles because we're just chatting the whole time. That's another great way to motivate yourself.
Yeah, also finding a buddy to work out with. It's a little bit of that […] because heaven knows, when we just had that slice of cake we're like, “I don't want to go. I feel bad. I just want to hide.”
Right. To me, actually, one of my most powerful fitness and health-promoting experiences is meeting this friend from mutual accountability and going on these runs. Guess what? No one's selling me anything there. The things that I was saying before to watch out for, like who's making money off this, no one's making money off that. Honestly, are they making extreme promises?
Our rule is if you can't talk you're moving too fast. So we are not going extreme here. This is not race trading. That is so much better than not going, but it's not a sell and it's not like an extreme exercise thing. It's just integrating exercise into your life, whether that's socializing or otherwise.
That's a great way to look at this. As Americans, I think we do a great job of siloing our lives. This is my work life, this is my personal life, this is my family life, this is my exercise. I don't exercise with people I work with. We're very siloed in that way and avoid some of the ways that might be helpful for us.
I think so. I wonder if the pandemic is going to change that a little bit. My husband has a very buttoned-up job on Wall Street. In the pandemic, as they've been released from the office and some of the literal suit-and-tie culture of that, he now meets people for walking meetings. Two years ago, that would be obscene. It's almost like a weird hippy thing. We want to walk around the park while we're talking about some company, but that, I think, is what you're talking about.
In many ways, our silos—particularly between work and home—have been totally banished or at least reorganized in the past year-and-a-half. There's a lot of negative to that, but I think that there's also some positive. As we rebuild things that we can be more conscientious about the life that we want. Around exercise, I think it's super interesting. Everyone is like, “Gyms will never come back now that everybody has Pelotons, home kettlebells, and all that. They never will.”
I do think home fitness obviously has boomed, and people are like, “Oh my God, I can do this stuff at home and the connected technologies are really good too.” But look at the stock price of Planet Fitness; it is going up. People want to get something other than that calorie burn out of exercise. To your point about siloing, seeing other people or being not 10 feet from where you did your Zoom call 10 minutes ago, all of that means something. I think we're in this really exciting moment where we can think about what we want and what health means as more than the size of your waist or the number of calories that you consumed.
Yeah. I guess the disclosure, the disclaimer for the episode is to talk with your doctor or physician and make sure that you're doing what's appropriate for you, your life circumstances, and your health. Just because some product or some particular exercise works for someone doesn't mean it's right for you and all that kind of stuff.
That's exactly right. I would say talk to your doctor. Going back to the first point that we talked about: just because someone on Instagram with a lot of followers is talking about her journey to a six-pack or two more dramatic things when we're talking about health to curing cancer. This is a real problem. There are “influencers” who are basically either fabricating their own journey or using just their own anecdotal evidence to convince people to buy their supplements, follow their diet, or whatever.
I'm a big fan of listening to everything and making your own choices. Your doctor doesn't necessarily have all the answers. I don't want to put doctors as infallible beings, but I'm more than a little bit concerned about what I see as a crisis of expertise around health and the way that social media has really, really intensified that.
Yeah. What's the saying? Correlation is not causation.
Yeah, that's absolutely right.
Just because something happened while something else was happening doesn't mean that one actually caused the other.
Right. Or that someone's unique experience you should evaluate in the same way that you would like a double-blind research study happening in the university. Not to say there are problems with that. Those are not apples to apples. Those are completely different sets of evidence to evaluate.
Yep. The fortunate thing is I think very few people are trained to read scientific studies other than maybe those that write scientific studies.
Yeah, totally. Including me. That's what I'm saying. If you would’ve talked to me two years ago, I would say, “Do your research. That’s the most important thing.” I still believe you should do your research, but I also think we really need a greater degree of humility and awareness about how much research each of us can actually do.
Because a lot of the things that we're thinking about evaluating, whether it's diet, exercise, or vaccines—not to get into that. I am not qualified to read a vaccine study, but I am qualified enough to know not to take my yoga teacher's advice on vaccines. That, to me, is probably not where I'm going to get the best information.
Yeah, and that's the challenge. With all these things, does someone have the credentials that they claim to have? Are those credentials supported by their education or do they buy the credentials from someone? It becomes very complicated to know what's right.
Yeah, and how are they using them? I ask all these questions and I push us to ask these questions, but don't go down the rabbit hole of conspiratorial thinking because there's a lot of that too. It's really hard, actually, to give quick actionable advice on how to make sense of all this because there's so much conflicting health information out there. I think a lot of people are rightly skeptical of institutions that we're supposed to trust. We're seeing the results of that right now.
Yep. I think there's a level of skepticism which we should always have to follow the money, what do they stand to gain by this position?
But we also want to watch out for extremes and they're always right or they're always wrong.
Once we get into those camps, we're lumping people in when they shouldn't be lumped in together.
Exactly. I think that's absolutely right.
Any other parting advice before we wrap up today?
I think it's great so many more people want to be healthy. I think it is challenging to do. If you feel like you're failing, know that that is probably not your fault. Our healthcare system in our industry is actually not set up to support optimal health for most Americans. We are all trying to figure it out together. I wish you the best on your journey, whatever that is, and maybe see you on a running trail sometime.
That's awesome. Natalia, where can people find you online if they want to follow you?
On Twitter and on Instagram, I'm @nataliapetrzela. That's hard to spell, but I bet it's in the show notes. I'm not as active on my LinkedIn and Facebook, but you can find me there too.
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Thank you. Great to talk.
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