Gym culture not working out for the French
By Lionel Laurent
PARIS (Reuters Life!) - The French may love to look good but few are willing to work up a sweat over it.
Despite increasing awareness of the benefits of healthy eating and physical exercise, going to the gym in France is still a niche activity that has yet to capture the mainstream.
France's generous healthcare system, its cultural preference for outdoor sports and its lack of affordable good-quality clubs are seen as reasons behind the country's low rate of gym goers, even relative to laid-back neighbors Spain or Italy.
"It appears to me that more people are sitting in cafes smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee than working out ... the French don't see fitness as a lifestyle," says American-born fitness consultant Fred Hoffman, who has lived in Paris for 21 years.
Only 5.4 percent of French people belonged to a health club in 2008, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, compared with 9.5 percent for Italy, 11.9 percent for the United Kingdom and 16.6 percent for Spain.
The figure doesn't include France's numerous community fitness groups, or "associations," which are entitled to government subsidies and tempt many consumers with cheap prices despite their often unsophisticated facilities.
Even taking into account this potential numbers gap, mass-market chains Club Med Gym and Fitness First say the $2 billion French market is a particularly tough slog. Property and staff are costly while competition from other sports is fierce.
"Football, tennis and cycling, those are the top three activities of the French," says Nadege Gaillard, marketing director for Club Med Gym, a Paris-focused brand that has not opened a single new club in nearly a decade. It is due to open a new venue in Paris in 2011. Continued...