According to the Rock ‘n’ Roll racing series—which is slowly taking over every distance race in the U.S.—to be a successful runner one must eat P.F. Chang’s Chinese food, drink light beer, and wear $200 worth of Brook’s running gear. Don’t forget the $350 Garmin watch that has GPS, a calorie counter, and is waterproof up to 50 metres. Then, in case you get drunk and start drowning in a triathlon, at least you’ll know whether you burned off all of that P.F. Chang’s. Chafed nipples? Vaseline won’t do the trick—you’ll need some Mission Skincare High Performance Anti-friction cream at $20 per tube.
Running is the simplest sport there is, and it really should be the cheapest. All that’s needed is a good pair of shoes, and many elite African runners would even argue against that requirement. Older runners are still rocking their ratty 1980s neon workout gear. Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile in history in hand-stitched leather racing flats, and he never complained about nipple chafing.
Running isn’t the only sport that has raised its entry fee. Air Jordans have replaced high-topped Converses in basketball, a decent sports-bra costs at least $50, and no peewee hockey player leaves for practice without several hundred dollars’ worth of hockey gear.
The yoga apparel brand Lululemon Athletica is the primary culprit in the casual exercise world. Vancouver housewives needed to look cute while toning their abs, and thus the $100 yoga pant was born. These days a woman can’t go to the gym—or assume the upward dog pose in her own home—without wearing a small fortune’s worth of Lululemon’s colorful spandex.
Setting a price floor on exercise gear and apparel creates the impression that trying to stay healthy is expensive. In a society where one in three children is likely to become obese, we can’t afford to make a trip to the gym a status symbol. The lower a person’s socioeconomic status, the more likely they are to indulge in cheap fast food and forego staying fit.
These unnecessary and outrageously priced products are a barrier to health. Everyone from inner-city kids to yuppie joggers have to associate an active lifestyle with brands rather than its proven benefits (adrenaline rushes in the short run, and longer lifespans in the long run). Inner-city kids shouldn’t have to avoid joining a team just because they can’t afford a snazzy new pair of sneakers, and their parents shouldn’t have to pay $150 to run a marathon, plus $300 in training gear.
Active lifestyles are seen as trendy, rather than a necessity for longevity. Consumer culture will never disappear, but it shouldn’t encroach on something as important as health. These products do little to keep people healthy once the excitement over a new gadget wears off. Completing a marathon or sticking to an exercise regimen requires dedication and intrinsic motivation, not a credit card.