ACCORDING to the Scottish Health Survey, 41 per cent of women don’t get enough exercise. The Herald’s health correspondent Helen Puttick recently wrote a column on why she doesn’t get the recommended amount. It’s a familiar story that many of us with busy lives can relate to.

While Puttick cited the common barriers to uptake in both time and confidence, she didn’t shed light on why huge numbers of Scottish women aren’t getting out: income. Fitness is the luxury of the fiscally comfortable, thanks to the explosion and commercialisation of our wellness culture. In Scotland, thanks to the government’s Gender and Income and Poverty study, we know more women than men suffer when poverty bites and that it takes a toll on our health. When barriers to health and wellness are discussed, disposable income is rarely front and centre of the conversation.

Poor health has become a poor people problem, and fitness culture is for the relatively wealthy. How do we bridge that schism? We need to start by shouting about how income inequality affects the adoption of healthier lifestyles.

We don’t have many role models in fitness who are ordinary people – every example comes with an air of exclusivity. When we see any on the TV, in magazines or on the internet, it’s rare that they’re in anything other than the best fitness apparel. Even when it’s not explicitly articulated, there are three visible markers of popular fitness culture – equipment, quality apparel and healthy food. Each of these things cost money. Let’s look at how this idea of popular fitness culture damages poorer women’s ability to improve their health.

1) Access to facilities and equipment costs money

For the majority of people, fitness is synonymous with access to equipment and facilities. Not everyone has the luxury of feeling safe or comfortable exercising alone in their neighbourhood, so for many the only realistic option for ongoing fitness is joining a gym or a health club, or even attending a municipal leisure centre. The cost of accessing these facilities is significant – particularly when you’re already trying to stretch your finances.

And even if the gym isn’t your thing, and you fancy trying something like Zumba, classes are still going to cost you. All of these things are behind a paywall. If you’re on a budget, this comes significantly far down the list of priorities. As anyone who’s found themselves on hard times will attest, £6.50 a week for a class is a significant chunk of the food budget. Or the nappies budget. Or the bills. Factor in the greater likelihood of poorer women to have irregular working patterns and zero-hours contracts, and there’s far less ability to commit to ongoing expense. We’re sold a one-dimensional idea of fitness – facility fitness – and it’s exclusive as hell. Add to this the greater need for women to source childcare – and the greater ability of the wealthier to find it – and you’ve got a serious job getting women past the front door in the first place.

And it’s not just the serious gym-bunny fitness that’s fallen victim to pound sign – yoga is another prime example of the commercialisation of wellness. An ancient practice with history spanning thousands of years – with scientific evidence to support positive outcomes on anxiety, depression, pain, cardiovascular, autoimmune and immune conditions and pregnancy – suddenly comes with a hefty price tag thanks to fitness companies looking to cash in. You’re told you need a class. You need a sports bra. You need expensive pants. You need a special mat. Never mind that it was practised naked for thousands of years without any of those things.

2) The apparel costs money

But it’s not simple enough to dismiss the need for apparel. Clothing is another significant part of the healthy lifestyle we’re commonly sold. If you want to get fit you better have the best Nikes, or Fabletics leggings or Ivy Park tank tops. For many women body confidence and clothing are inextricably linked. Cringing at your gear starts early. When I started high school, I recall getting thumped for having "crappy" Hi-Tec trainers. My household financial unease was coded in my clothing and instantly singled me out from my peers. I remember the shame burning in my ears – shame for the cheap shoes and then shame for my ingratitude towards my mother. I forged parental notes to get out of class for the rest of term. I opted out because I felt financially excluded.

This embarrassment carries on long past adolescence. If you join a gym and appear in leggings, plimsolls and an old T-shirt, there’s little chance you’ll spot someone like you amongst the Lululemon and Sweaty Betty devotees. And that’s not even considering how many people are going above and beyond clothing with the high-volume adoption of fitness tech wearables. Despite your strongest resolve to get fit, if you can barely afford to be there, it’s hard not to internalise that disparity.

If you’re going to step outside your comfort zone, to an alien environment like the gym, you’re going to arm yourself with what you know best. If you’re already lacking in confidence and don’t have the luxury of investing in leisurewear, it’s an easy way to talk yourself out of participating. It’s not enough to want to get fit – there’s pressure to look good while you do it.

3) The food costs money

It would be remiss to talk about fitness culture without the cost of healthy eating. Eat more vegetables. Eat less processed food. Don’t eat gluten. Eat wholegrains. Avoid dairy. Drink protein shakes. Take supplements. The clean-eating industry is cashing in on our desire to self-improve by advocating fad diets, atypical foods and unrealistic eating regimes as a must-do for health. Instead of advocating moderation, these are all too often billed as all-or-nothing approaches. If you’ve ever tried to make a smoothie from scratch, you’ll know how eye-watering the cost of such virtuous eating can be. All too often it’s the case that the cheapest food is the worst in terms of quality.

Given the likelihood of income-unstable households being able to commit to these diets, or even buy enough fruit and veg to meet daily targets, you’ve got an easy way to make people feel like a failure. And where people feel like they’re setting themselves up to fail, they’re far less likely to begin in the first place.

Money significantly intersects with other barriers, meaning that despite educational health drives, health outcomes won’t improve without considering things through an income prism.

If the government wants to improve on that 41 per cent statistic, they’re going to have to get creative. It’s not a lack of time or of understanding – it’s money. It’s not that women don’t know they need more physical activity, it’s that there’s so much noise in addition to traditionally quantified barriers. They need to find away to cut through the fitness culture BS and show women they can improve their lives without it.