Men’s Fitness Around the World – How Does it Differ?

Written by
Bethany Gill
Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
1st December 2020

In 10 seconds

How does men’s fitness around the world differ? 🌎 We interviewed 5 different men from around the world to find out how they view fitness and how their attitudes towards fitness compare dependent on where they live.

Men’s Fitness in France 🇫🇷

Nico, 61, Marseilles – Entrepreneur and former Pro Football

The ideal physique for men in France and the one most sought after is lean and slim. This is reflected in general fitness attitudes, with growing popularity in yoga for men, a steady popularity in outdoor running and a low tendency for men to gravitate towards the gym for weight lifting and body building. There isn’t much of a gym culture. Fitness studios in the cosmopolitan cities, yes, but gyms aren’t huge here.

“The french language doesn’t have a word for fitness, so I feel that summarises very well how we view it. Our word is ‘bien-etre’ which translates more as wellbeing. “

Culturally, looking good on the outside is considered to make you feel good on the inside in France, being fit and healthy is definitely part of the culture. People tend to look after themselves, they look after their body and also their mind. Being active and fit is a way to stay youthful, healthy and a great way to keep your mind active. We’re lucky with the climate in France, with the ability to ski, hike and spend a lot of time outdoors, which does great things for the soul.

In France, men are not fitness obsessed but we’re healthy.

Men’s Fitness in the USA 🇺🇸

Ryan, 29, New York, Enterprise Account Manager

In general Americans love going to the gym to lift and run on the treadmill, 1 in 5 of Americans belong to a gym or health club. While of course outdoor activities are also enjoyed, and vary by region, to match the American ideal of the muscular male figure, heavy weightlifting reigns supreme. This includes Crossfit, by the way. Other activities such as hiking, snowboarding, skiing, recreational sports, running are also key elements of American fitness, but the centre of the fitness world in American culture is certainly the gym.

“If you look up American fitness marketing it really sells the idea that we are all athletes in America. The fitness industry in America is absolutely massive and a lot of this has to do with these successful marketing campaigns. Most young men have gym memberships, though not everyone goes religiously, but the idea is still there.”

American men idealise the extreme, muscular body type, in general. We use terms like “athlete” and “athletic” to the degree that these words nearly lose their meaning. The word athlete is not reserved for those who most passionately play an intensely physical sport, but can be applied to nearly anyone who goes out for a jog or does a few push-ups.

Young men in America think of themselves as athletes, or at least potential athletes and this has a big impact on their attitude to fitness bordering from time to time on the obsessive.

Men’s Fitness in The Netherlands 🇳🇱

Sjoerd, 24, Rotterdam, Student

Fitness is a priority and taken very seriously by Dutch men. There isn’t a lot of obesity, everyone is in pretty great shape. There’s definitely a fear of being out of shape, I think that’s why fitness and being active is so popular. 

There are differences in the way men go about their fitness, but in general most men will do some kind of fitness activity regularly. There isn’t really a gym culture – outdoor running and cycling is really popular.

“Sport isn’t part of the school curriculum, so people join their local clubs. Hockey and football are your biggest team sports definitely. Most popularly though, its cardio, running and cycling – that’s probably why Dutch men are typically thought of as tall and slim.”

Culturally as well, cycling is the main mode of transport. People walk less from location to location in the Netherlands because cycling is so prominent. Every child will cycle to school, people will cycle to work if they live within a close enough distance.

It’s highly encouraged to cycle over driving in the Netherlands, and most big cities are acclimated to that. 

Men’s Fitness in Mauritius 🇲🇺

Mark, 26, Port Louis, Tax Accountant

Most Mauritian men are very fit and active. There’s a warm climate, so it’s conducive to an active and outdoor life. It’s part of the culture that fitness is associated with a healthy life, it’s not necessarily about aesthetics as such – although maybe with the younger generations. I suppose when life is spent outdoors more, you need to be fitter to enjoy it.

“You’ll go to the beach for volleyball or a swim. Tennis and football are also regular social activities that you’ll play at your local club.”

Sports wise, football is the biggest sport, followed by cycling. The gym is fairly popular but men go really for weight lifting – as they’ll get their cardio in outdoors. There aren’t any free gyms, and gyms aren’t something that advertise really, you just pick the one closest to you. It does mean you can only go if you can afford it though. There’s a lot of runners in Mauritius, it’s a beautiful country to go for a run in. Running can also be a social activity for friends.

The island is mostly covered in sugar cane, so everything is spaced out so driving tends to be the transport method of choice. However, fitness and sport fits into people’s social lives enormously.

Men’s Fitness in Brazil 🇧🇷

Thomas, 30, São Paulo, Customer Service Representative

In Brazil, fitness isn’t culturally a big focus for a lot of men. It’s seen as something you do if you want a good body. 

“Usually people here in Brazil take care of their body, but they don’t really care much about their health, rather to show off the body in their surroundings.”

That being said, there are free gyms to make it accessible, but it’s not part of the national conversation, the government doesn’t push fitness as part of a healthy lifestyle, it’s less associated with health but more associated with looking good. There is a fitness crowd, people who regularly exercise and want to have nice bodies. Amongst that crowd you see a lot of Crossfit as well as yoga and pilates. It’s very much about strength in the gym or fitness studios. Men will tend to run outdoors for cardio.

Sport here in Brazil is very much centred around football, a lot of people play football socially. Also people do a lot of outdoor running, which can be social as well. People do tend to walk a lot, instead of driving as well, and life is generally spent outside. 

Final Thoughts

It’s clear that the attitude to men’s fitness around the world differs dependent on location but that everyone wherever they are recognises that being ‘fit’, is keeping active and moving your body. When asked about fitness, each of these men gravitated towards talking about their own personal routines, and thinking about fitness as something that an individual adapts to themselves as opposed to part-taking in as a group, in a sports team for example. ‘Fitness’ as a concept isn’t just a set framework that echoes around the world, and it can be tweaked and tailored to suit exactly your lifestyle and attitude, regardless of where you live, how you feel or how you want to feel.

Please Note: this article is based on opinions of individuals, so is going to be influenced by their own personal relationship with fitness. Thanks to all the men who provided their opinions which enabled us to put this article together!

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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