French People Love Cycling, Hate The GymS

Yet another blow to the idea that French people are paragons of health: they apparently hate going to the gym.

According to Reuters, gyms just haven't caught on in France — while membership is at 11.9% in the UK and 16.6% in Spain, (one source says the figure was 15% in the US as of 2008). One possible reason is that French people don't want to be caught in gauche workout wear. Says Reuters,

Even the sight of President Nicolas Sarkozy in running shoes jogging after his election in 2007 proved too much for some.

"I would rather see the president in his suit than in his sweat," said philosopher Alain Finkielkraut at the time.

Touché (sorry). There is, however, another explanation. Maybe French people just don't go to the gym because they like exercising outdoors. Nadege Gaillard, marketing director for Club Med Gym, says the three top forms of physical activity in France are "football, tennis and cycling" — and while you could certainly play racquetball or ride a stationary bike indoors, I can't blame the French for wanting to get their exercise outside a gym. The article didn't even mention my biggest gym phobia: that all the other gym-goers are secretly judging me for sucking at working out.

But apparently not all French folk are turning to open-air activities to keep their notoriously svelte physiques. Says Reuters, "consumers seem to prefer the aesthetic appeal of creams and cosmetics that claim to have slimming properties." Oh, and smoking.

Why French Women Don't Get Fit [Reuters, via Sydney Morning Herald]