From The Economist:
To anthropologists of the future, however, the gym boom may look as much like a sinister cult as a commercial triumph. Gym-going, after all, has all the basic lineaments of a religion. Its adherents are motivated by feelings of guilt, and the urge to atone for fleshly sins. Many visit their places of worship with a fanatical regularity: a third of LA Fitness members, for instance, go virtually every day. Once there, believers are led by sacerdotal instructors, who either goad them into mass ecstasy during aerobics classes, or preside over the confessional tête-à-tête of personal training. Each devotee has his own rituals, though most rely on the principles of self-mortification and delayed gratification. The extremist cult of body-building, whose Mecca is Gold’s Gym in Venice, California, has become a mass movement.
After escaping from a brush with the horizontal leg press, the question that troubles this slobbish journalist is: why? What inspires the armies of devout body-worshippers? What is the point?…
slightly less depressing possibility is that the appeal of the gym cult lies in the structure of religion itself. Perhaps hedonism is losing its lustre, and rich westerners once again crave the shape and strictures, however masochistic, that orthodox religion once supplied. Like Christian salvation, the holy grails of gym-goers may be distant and unattainable, and the paths towards them painful, but the rules and routines that their pursuit involves seem to provide comfort to a new and growing breed of secular puritans.
In the end, gym-attendance, like most popular religions, probably has something to do with fear of death and the quest for immortality—as if a well-toned body could somehow stave off the day of judgment. Which, unfortunately, is just another way in which it is liable to lead to disappointment. Gyms may not actually be bad for most people who go to them; but, as a wise man once inquired about hard work, why take the risk