Good Intentions

Last Updated : May 30, 2024

Velleity is an interesting word.  It comes from the Latin velle ‘to wish’.  More broadly, the dictionary definition means a wish or inclination, not strong enough to lead to action.  Quite simply – good intentions.  And right now, we are in the season of good intentions, which closely follows the season of festivities – Christmas.

The pattern is familiar; two-weeks of alcohol, turkey, chocolate and mince pies, followed by the inevitable weight gain, itself followed by remorse and a New Year’s resolution to eat less, and exercise more.

Most of us console ourselves with the idea that a little excess over the holiday period can be easily corrected in the New Year.  And so marching to the rescue comes a whole posse of velleities.  We buy an exercise bike with every intention of getting up and using it before we go to work, or as soon as we get home.  It starts life in front of the TV, but then migrates to the bedroom, then to the utilities area (next to the washing machine) and finally to the garage.  There it remains – a lasting tribute to good intentions!

Another velleity is the gym membership.  Again, the pattern is familiar.  We go along to the local gym or health club, seduced by the special New Years offers to “become a better you” and sign up.  Gyms clubs are hugely successful at getting people to part with their money and the Christmas and New Year holiday period is a crucial revenue window for them.  They call this membership surge “membership from guilt”.  Christmas indulgence makes us part with our money because – having committed financially – we feel sure it will motivate us to stick at it.  Of course, this is fantasy.

The truth is that more than half of all gym members never actually go to the gym.  In fact, one US survey of 5,313 gym members found that 63% of paid memberships go completely unused.  So, whilst the gym owners work hard to get people to sign up, they know that after 1st February they are not going to see the majority of them ever again.  A gym’s managers mission is to attract the perfect customer: those who intend to work out, but don’t.

The business model which most gym and health clubs use, assumes that most people will seldom – if ever – attend.  In fact, it’s essential that members don’t attend, because if they all did, there simply wouldn’t be the space to accommodate them all.  It would not be unheard of for a gym to have a total membership of say 6,000, but only 300 active members.  Imagine the chaos if everyone decided to turn their velleities into actions! On the other hand, if you are one of the minority who joins and does attend, you probably have a great deal, because you are effectively being subsidised by all the others sitting at home, eating pizza and watching Netflix.

My advice?  Rather then invest lots of money in gym memberships and home exercise equipment, why not start with a walking programme?  Walking is a hugely under-rated exercise, perhaps because it doesn’t require fancy equipment or specialist knowledge.   Moreover, it’s regular, rhythmical and involves major muscle groups.  And if you walk briskly, you can achieve significant improvements in cardiovascular fitness.  In fact, it’s just about the most natural and versatile exercise you can imagine.

So rather than forking out for expensive membership fees, why not walk to the gym (don’t bother joining) and then walk home again.

Dr David Ashton MD PhD

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