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The Pros and Cons of UCSB’s “Workout Culture”

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

As UCSB students, we are privileged to attend a university that affords us many opportunities to spend time outside, stay active, and get fit.  If you’ve ever walked down Del Playa at sunset, you’ve probably seen the traffic jam of joggers, bikers, and surfers taking advantage of this by squeezing their workouts in before finishing homework or heading to a party (or perhaps you were one of the said joggers, bikers, or surfers).  On one hand, such a fitness-based culture can be inspiring and promote lifelong healthy habits.  On the other hand, though, this obsession with working out can be dangerous, as it may place an unjustified emphasis on physical appearance and fitting in with others.

First, let’s examine the benefits of this so-called “workout culture.”  One is that it is easy to find a workout buddy or support system if this is something that interests you.  Creating such connections with people who have similar goals serves as an easy way to make friends as well as hold yourself accountable.  Likewise, such a widespread interest in fitness at UCSB allows for many opportunities to try out new routines and find something you truly enjoy. The variety of activities and equipment available at the Recreation Center, encourages students to try something they may have never considered before, which can result in the discovery of lifelong hobbies and passions. Furthermore, consistently working out can lower stress levels, reduce symptoms of insomnia, and improve memory, all of which are valuable in our lives as college students.  

On the flip side, such a prevalent workout culture can place unwanted stress on those who don’t want to take part in it or those who are prone to self-doubt, comparison to others, or body image concerns.  Those who don’t work out may experience pressure to change their lifestyle even if they are content with it, and they may start to exercise for the wrong reasons – to fit in with others, to change their bodies, or to avoid harsh judgments from their peers.  Finding a friend to work out with can lead to problems of jealousy, comparison, and insecurity.  Sticking to a strict exercise schedule can result in feelings of guilt or anxiety if it is ignored for a day or two.  Excessive exercise is even linked to eating disorders such as anorexia; for those who are in recovery, compulsive exercise is best avoided.  

So where should we draw the line?  At what point does workout culture cause more harm than good?  The answer will vary according to each student.  The most important thing to ensure is that each person is working out for the right reasons – whether it is to improve their physical health, lift their mood, make new friends, or all of the above.  Workout culture only becomes problematic when people choose to work out (or not to work out) for the wrong reasons – because they want to achieve the appearance of an Instagram model, keep up with the accomplishments of their peers, or avoid negative judgment about being “lazy” or “out of shape.”  

The key to feeling good about workouts is to find specific routines that you enjoy and to ensure that you are working out for yourself, not to subscribe to any sort of gym or workout culture.   Exercise can be a social activity, but at its core is a combination of personal (and healthy!) goals, values, and preferences.  As you interact with workout culture, keep in mind your own tendencies, motivations, and desires.  The ancient Greek saying “know thyself” applies to many – if not all – aspects of our lives, but it’s safe to say that it especially applies here.

Kendall is a first-year Communication student at UCSB and an editorial intern for Her Campus UCSB. When she isn’t writing, she’s usually either doing yoga, getting coffee, or planning her future travels.
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