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World Beat: Norway

Since 1995, the fitness industry has been changing its profile in Norway. Many new and more exclusive clubs have arrived. The marketing of these clubs to consumers has also changed to signal that fitness is for everyone, not just the young and fit. These changes have made the common man in our culture feel comfortable and included in the clubs.

Unfortunately, the general physical activity level among Norwegians has gradually dropped. This is reflected in an increase in weight among both men and women. But there is still reason to believe that Norway has fewer problems with obesity than many other European countries. Many people are discussing a government proposition that would give Norwegians the right to exercise at work for an hour each day while getting paid for their time. Norway has a public health system that is financed by taxation, and few people have private health plans. There has been public discussion about how much money the government saves in hospital expenses when people exercise. Recently, our country finally got its own public council, which provides the population with information and advice about physical activity. This council has made a noticeable difference in the common man’s knowledge about health topics and in the number of big companies building corporate exercise facilities.

In general, Norwegians like outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, walking and running. Indoor activities that are popular at the moment are yoga, salsa, tango and line dancing. But the athletics associations are not succeeding in their efforts to recruit people—young or old—to get physically active.

There are many gyms all over Norway. Most of the bigger gyms are in the cities, and the smaller ones are in the countryside. Most gyms offer weight rooms and several rooms for cardio classes and indoor cycling. Few clubs have sports courts or pools. Rents here are relatively high, so companies want to make as much money as they can in the fewest square meters.

Most people join private gyms. Gym membership is still considered relatively expensive. At one point recently, the government was considering adding a tax on fitness club memberships, even though research said that for every krone earned in taxes, two kroner would be spent in health costs later on. The public, along with the Norwegian University of Sports and Physical Education, was against this proposal and it was ultimately defeated.

The age range of those with gym memberships varies, but the majority of members are 30 to 40 years old. More women than men have memberships. Most members like the regular classes, such as cardio, step, muscle sculpting and indoor cycling. But mind-body classes and branded programs like BodyPUMP are also very popular at the moment. The strength training classes seem to appeal more to men.

The whole concept of personal training is still pretty new. But the recent increase in interest has been explosive. The problem lies in educating enough people to become personal trainers. Most trainers work with their clients in a gym.

—Reported by Guri Brekke, a health and exercise therapist based in Oslo, Norway, who has worked in the fitness industry for 13 years.

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