The cost of staying fit: How disadvantaged groups are falling behind
When it comes to health and wellbeing, the cost of staying fit can add up. In Australia, adults will spend an average of $81 per month on gym memberships1. Premium fitness clubs can cost three times that (around $65 a week) and joining fees can set you back up to $1992. While plenty of gyms open their doors till late, their facilities may not be accessible to some of the most disadvantaged groups in the community. For families struggling to make ends meet, the cost of working out can be unattainable.
Poverty and inequality in Australia
You may not see it, but poverty exists in Australia.
Poverty is defined as having a lack of resources or money to fulfil immediate basic needs but it’s more than just a lack of money. Poverty means people are focused solely on making ends meet and can lack the ability to make choices for their life and future.
There are over 3.3 million Australians living in poverty and facing significant financial hardship in their day-to-day lives3. Sole-parent families or families with children reliant on part-time earnings are among those most affected by poverty4.
In 2021-22, The official poverty line in Australia works out to be $489 per week for a single adult4 – for context, the median national rent rose to $565 a week in March 20235.
Coupled with the increasing cost of living, there can be little leftover for people in need to spend on gym memberships. Staying fit and getting regular exercise is an important pillar of good physical and mental health, but for people facing financial hardship or living in poverty, it’s a luxury that feels out of reach.
Andrew (47) lived with mental health challenges, feeling anxious around other people. His seven-year-old daughter, Jane, was one of the few people Andrew felt comfortable around.
As a single dad, Andrew was always on his feet, but keeping up with a seven-year-old was physically tough. Andrew felt out of breath walking short distances with his daughter.
Andrew knew his fitness needed to improve, but he was hesitant to join the local gym, knowing there would be other people there and conscious of the weekly cost of membership.
Andrew’s support worker, Caroline suggested the father and daughter duo visit an indoor pool together. It would be a great way for them to exercise and spend time outside of the home, says Caroline.
At one of our family support services, Andrew and Jane had access to financial relief that could provide a yearly pass to the pool and its gym.
Hesitant at first, Andrew has since been attending the pool, and its gym for several months and the impact on his physical and mental health has been astounding.
Every Friday, Andrew goes to the gym in the afternoon before picking his daughter up. After school, Andrew and Jane spend quality time at the pool together.
Attending the gym regularly has helped Andrew regain confidence and boost his ability to connect with others in public. It’s also been a great way for Jane to get out of the house with her dad.
"When I walk in, other gym users have gotten to know me...They all say ‘g'day mate."
Andrew’s support worker also noticed his incredible change.
“The change in Andrew has been amazing... he can connect with people now and he is looking healthier and happier,” says Caroline.
“Knowing that he is leaving the house every day and engaging in a positive way with at least one other person is very gratifying and knowing that we’ve helped him is a fantastic outcome.”
How our services help
Our range of community and homelessness specialist services in the community work with individuals and families to support people in need to thrive.
Read more stories about how we help end homelessness and support people and communities.
Names and images have been changed to protect the identity of the people we help.
3Foodbank Hunger Report (2021)
4Poverty in Australia, ACOSS & UNSW (2020)
5Thomson et al, 2011, Challenges for Australian Education
Related news and stories
Read about what we’ve been working on, our stance on important social issues and how you make a difference to vulnerable Australians' lives.