Before COVID-19, health and fitness industry experts were investing heavily in gamified, virtual, and immersive fitness experiences. A January 2020 article by Fast Company described AI-powered fitness activities that resembled entertainment as much as strength-training. The next step in the evolution of fitness included retail and restaurants in unexpected places, community hubs, and enhanced technology to assist in training and recovery.
But things are different now. After being quarantined in our homes for months on end, people all over the world are feeling the natural pull to get outside. People are rethinking what it means to exercise, where they do it, and how safe the gym really is. There is an internal cost-benefit analysis occurring. Gym-goers are debating the benefits of an expensive trainer and gym membership, as opposed to being outside in the sunshine. Value systems are shifting as external factors dictate what we do and when we do it. And our level of confidence that the pandemic will not come home with us after the gym.
The gym is starting to feel like the antithesis of health. In crowded spaces, there is little chance of maintaining the mandated six-foot physical distancing. Mirror selfies seem even more ridiculous–if that was possible. And steam rooms are closed for good reason.
Social media has changed during the pandemic–it revealed a new side of reality that can otherwise be easily covered up with a filter or two. But, the masks will never be fully taken off. And it breaks people down physically and emotionally to compare themselves to others on the platform. It doesn’t build the resilience we are ultimately after.
Our culture prioritizes aesthetics. The bodybuilders and bikini models receive trivial rewards as acknowledgment for their appearance, which is not an indication of health. Instead, they quietly glorify the use of body-enhancing and synthetic drugs. Linear, unnatural exercises taught in the gym reap some rewards but ultimately make us feel empty, sick, stiff, and creates tension throughout our body. It seems that it is time for us to take a new approach to human health and exercise. Perhaps one that is more natural–primal, even.
The development of human movement has been an integral component of our evolution as a species. The complexity of human movement is one of the reasons for our brain development, our departure from primates, and ascent to the top of the food chain. It allowed us to hunt, to travel further, and create tools. Humans are some of the best movers in the animal kingdom but only a small subset of our species use the body to its full potential.
Movement and exercise should make us feel free, should make us feel alive, and should make us feel human. In Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance, she summarized years of research that found ‘grit’ to be a stronger predictor of high-achievement than intelligence, talent, and other positive personality traits. Grit is developed during exercise when we challenge ourselves beyond our comfort zone. And we have to find that strength inside ourselves to push further.
As we innovate a better and more harmonious future we must consider what the evolution of physical and mental conditioning looks like. If the goal is to improve and optimize our physical health we have to look beyond the dumbbells and the heavy metal music.
The future of exercise will be outside in nature. Whether it’s a walk through the woods, yoga in the park, or somersaults in the sand. The known benefits of nature extend far beyond our biceps, they are important for our mental health as well. We are learning how to optimize our holistic health in more effective ways.
We need to play like we used to like children would. We move naturally when we are playing, relaxed, and having fun. This is integral in our ability to be physically and mentally sharp as we age.