Our school days are (somewhat erroneously) often referred to as the best years of our life. Not the PE part, though. It is not for nothing that the phys-ed teacher has become a comedy cliché in this country: the chivvying, barking madman/woman only happy when their charges are sweating – either from a cross-country run or sheer fear.
Not that we're saying physical exercise is bad for kids, of course – mens sana in corpore sano and all that – but rather that school gym classes only seemed enjoyable on those odd occasions when one was allowed to get away from circuit training to play with a ball, say.
Yet, somehow, as adults, many who once wheezed their way through a beep test regularly put themselves through the rigours of a work-out – voluntarily.
How has this come to pass? Thank Sir George Williams. He it was who created the YMCA in 1841 to substitute life on the streets for Bible study and prayer. By the 1860s, the YMCA had adopted the tenets of Muscular Christianity, espousing the belief that one must keep the body healthy – since it housed the Holy Spirit – adding physical recreation to its curriculum and bringing the idea of the gym into the popular consciousness.
Gymnasia have, of course, moved on since then – and perhaps the most momentous shift has been the advent of "classes". Yes, there is the dreaded circuit training of yore. But now private health centres offer everything from "zumba" (Latin-inspired dancing) to yoga to, um, pole-dancing – and all for free. Yes, FREE! Another obvious advantage is that these are group activities, so there's the social aspect – and it's not as though you're getting bored pounding away on a treadmill for hours on end.
Then again, you do have to pay the gym subscription to get those free classes. And you could just cycle or jog round a park, enjoying the fresh air and the beauty of a spring day. But then you'd miss that instructor barking at you to "REALLY MAKE THIS LAST MINUTE COUNT", wouldn't you? And who wouldn't want to get such a wonderful reminder of the best years of their life?