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Incorporating Mental Health Exercise Programs at Your Gym

June 2021

Why Your Gym Should Prioritize Mental Health

As a club owner or operator, you may not always recognize the tremendous impact that your gym can have on the mental health and wellbeing of your members through exercise. By consciously incorporating mental health exercise programs at your gym or health club, you can create a unique opportunity to attract members who are interested in working out specifically to manage the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million American adults ages 18 and up suffer from some form of anxiety or depression. That’s more than 18% of the population. With so many Americans facing these types of symptoms in the wake of the isolation and stress brought on from the COVID-19 pandemic, then it stands to reason that exercise programs focused on mental wellbeing and whole person health, could be a fantastic addition to your offerings.

For some people, exercise can help them manage the symptoms of mental illness. According to the American Psychological Association, a solid workout can reduce feelings of fight-or-flight and improve mood. In addition, an article from the Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry lists a number of health benefits of exercise, which include stress reduction, better sleep, higher energy levels, and the potential for feeling more alert throughout the day.

Working out releases feel-good endorphins in the body, in addition to reducing inflammation in the body and promoting neural growth. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise may also help prevent some individuals from relapsing into depression or anxiety after they have initially undergone treatment. Whether that’s medication, therapy, or a combination of the two, exercise is an excellent complement to treatment for mental illness.

Types of Exercise That May Improve Mental Health

Any type of exercise may help improve mental health, depending on the individual’s needs and preferences. For example, some people may prefer a high-impact workout to reduce stress, such as cardio, boxing, spin class, or HIIT. Other individuals may prefer nurturing, calming workouts like yoga, walking, or swimming. Still others enjoy lifting weights or bodyweight exercises.

If you’re considering programs or classes that focus on mental wellbeing, you may want to consider offering one high-impact program, and one gentler program. Survey your members to find out what they’re most interested in, and consider their feedback before you implement a new program. The key will be offering a program that aligns with your members’ interests. Consider their feedback, then tailor your program to their needs to get started.

Special Considerations for Mental Health Exercise Programs at Your Club

Creating mental health exercise programs at your gym means you’ll need to consider your members’ motivation for attending these workouts, and adjust the offerings to match those motivations. Your members are coming to relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Account for the possibility that some members may see exercise as a chore or may struggle with results-oriented programs.

Your primary motivation (and result) should be for the members who attend your mental health exercise programs to feel better when they leave than when they arrived. Consider coaching your members to be present in their bodies and enjoy the way movement makes them feel. Allow participants to exercise at the level they’re physically comfortable with, and offer technique modifications so they can adjust their movements if needed.

At the core, mental health exercise programs are about alleviating stress on the body and mind. Incorporate gentle stretching, full-body movement, and relaxing cool-downs for a complete workout that leaves your members feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.

Other Ways to Incorporate Mental Health Programming

In addition to classes, your club’s app and personal training programs may be a great opportunity to emphasize mental health and overall wellness. If you are a club currently using the ABC+ app, you can create personalized habit reminders for your members around specific mental health best practices, or have your personal trainers curate specific exercise programs for your members. Members can then use the app to stay in touch with their trainer throughout the week as they move through their daily routines and fitness habits they’ve set for themselves. It’s a great way to let your members decide, on an individual basis, exactly what works best for them.