When the world markets were crashing in 1929 and the American economy was in ruins, Angelo Siciliano, an Italian immigrant, saw opportunity in the face of darkness.
As a young man weighing only 97 pounds, Siciliano was at the beach with his girlfriend when a bully kicked sand in his face. Humiliated, he began doing numerous exercise routines and became obsessed with strength. According to Siciliano's memoirs, he was at the zoo one day watching a lion stretch when he thought to himself, "Does this old gentleman have any barbells, any exercisers?" Siciliano concluded that lions and tigers became strong by pitting muscle against muscle. He changed his name to Charles Atlas and in the midst of economic turmoil began offering bodybuilding courses through a mail-order fitness program.
Advertisements soon appeared in comic books and magazines, and this was the beginning of Charles Atlas Ltd., the fitness industry phenomenon. According to Atlas's 1982 biography, "Yours in Perfect Manhood," his company did so well that it emerged from the stock market crash unscathed.
Before the Great Depression lifted, Jack LaLanne, often called the godfather of fitness, also influenced millions of lives by teaching people to eat right and exercise regularly. LaLanne, who died last January at the age of 96, opened the first American health club in Oakland, California in 1936. LaLanne spent decades spreading the physical and mental benefits of exercise and designed the world's first leg-extension machine which is now standard in the industry.
Both Atlas and LaLanne saw a hunger for people wanting to escape their financial woes and feel good about themselves. In the midst of financial distress and against all odds, these pioneers began the fitness revolution we know it today.
Is something similar brewing? Despite the sagging economy and rising unemployment, several recent polls indicate that tough financial times actually encourage people to redirect their expenses toward health-conscious pursuits while traveling and dining out less often. While some may suggest that dropping your gym membership along with cable television is the right thing to do in a troubled economy, you should never give up your gym membership in any economy. Your gym membership is an incredible value for these five reasons:
On average, a single meal out costs well over half what your gym membership costs per month.
Working out regularly keeps you mentally and physically balanced.
No matter what gym you belong to, it's a community. Enjoying like-minded individuals is good for the soul.
The gym provides a constant in your daily schedule. No matter how hectic your life becomes with interruptions, the gym is a safe harbor where you always feel welcome.
Exercise boosts self-confidence, and this is important if you're dealing with the negative effects of a recession or your confidence is down due to a job loss.
While it's true that money can't bring happiness, good health most definitely can.
Albany native Tony Powell is the owner and operator of Tony's Westside Athletic Club and Fitness for Women. A former competitive bodybuilder and powerlifter, he established Tony's Gym in 1982.