Free Press Journal

Health Check: How safe are our gyms?


Under the garb of producing a chiselled generation, Mridul Negi wonders if the gyms across the country are playing with the health and fitness of our nation

The perfectly carved and well-toned body is something that everyone dreams of. While the efforts put in to achieve the goal may vary from individual to individual, the inherent aspiration to be in top physical condition is common for everyone. Fuelled by successful transformation stories of celebrities such as Aamir Khan for ‘Dangal’, most of the newbie fitness enthusiasts are becoming victims of a ruthless industry that is toying with the health of the nation.

The role model trend

Exercising to keep the body running in optimum condition and maintaining health has somehow taken a back seat in a trend where a well-built muscular body is not a desire but a need to fulfil our narcissistic nature. “I joined gym a month before my college was about to start. I needed a buffed body as fast as possible, so I could be popular,” says Ankit Negi, a student. Ankit is not alone in his pursuit for a ‘buffed body’ as it has become a fashion among youth, who are ready to go to any level to get that chiselled look. While it can be argued that a muscular body has always been in fashion, the standards of it have changed greatly over the recent decades. By idolising professional fitness athletes, the current generation has raised the standards to an unrealistic level.

“It takes hard work and a disciplined diet over a long period to gain muscle mass like the professional athletes, it cannot be attained in a short period of time,” says Sachin Thakur, a trainer at one of Delhi NCR’s popular gyms. “Those unsuspecting youngsters who are looking for shortcuts are perfect prey for unethical trainers, who are filling their pockets by selling them fake supplements and steroids,” he further adds.

Selling shortcuts

Indian gyms are full of self-proclaimed fitness experts who lack proper certification. Sachin is of the view that many of the gym trainers in the industry do not possess the required certification in human anatomy and nutrition, yet they enjoy blind faith of their pupils that allows them to exploit them.

Building the perfect body is a strenuous task that can take its toll on individuals, leading them to give up on their goals midway through. This provides the perfect opportunity for the instructors to provide shortcuts such as steroids to unsuspecting individuals. “If your instructor asks you to take steroids, it’s a red flag that he doesn’t have your best interests at heart and just wants to make some money by toying with your health,” advises Sachin.

Toying with health

Steroids such as Dianabol (oral) and Deca-Durabolin (injected) that are generally used in gyms are powerful drugs that need expert medical supervision to keep their various side effects in check. These drugs increase testosterone levels in the human body, which results in rapid muscle gain making them hugely popular.

“Many of the drugs that are used in gyms are not even suitable for humans. Such steroids greatly alter the hormonal balance of the body that can lead to severe and in rare cases even fatal side effects,” says Dr Ashish Saini, endocrinologist, adding, “These are medicines used to cure conditions such as infertility, low testosterone, and a reduced sex drive. They should only be used in consultation with a medical practitioner.”

William Llewellyn the author of ‘Anabolics’, widely considered as the gospel for sports performance enhancing drugs, has warned of the side effects of using such steroids. He says the use may result in severe acne, male pattern baldness, aggression, and gynecomastia, which is the development of breast tissue in males. Also, long-term use of steroids makes the body dependent on external sources for testosterone production and curbs the natural production. Hence, those who have used steroids even once in their life face drastically low levels of testosterone for the rest of their life.

Vibhu Khanna, a gym enthusiast has seen up and close how devastating the side effects of steroids could be. “I used to take steroids; they gave me great results initially but after some time it took a toll on my body and mind. I started being aggressive and also developed gynecomastia. Sadly there’s no other option than cosmetic surgery to treat it. I will never take them again, and also advise against it for others,” he says.

Go natural

Shortcuts are easier to take, but when it comes to health and fitness, going the old ‘hard way’ is the smarter option. Consistent hard work at the gym and a protein-heavy diet can go a long way in making you muscular naturally with no side effects at all. Ritu Chawla, a dietician by profession, is of the view that testosterone can be boosted naturally even without steroids. “A diet rich in zinc, vitamin D, and magnesium along with regular compound movement exercises can boost testosterone naturally. Herbs like Ashwagandha and Gokshura can also be used to aid the natural production of testosterone,” she says.

In this world where being at the top of trends is a necessity to maintain social stature, one needs to make an informed choice about their fitness. As appealing as the shortcuts may feel, one would do well to remember that things that come easy are not always the best.