The role health clubs play in addressing the mental health crisis and how you can help.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in every five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness.
The COVD-19 pandemic left people feeling isolated, created delaying or cancelations in doctor’s appointments, and 4.9 million people were unable to access care they needed for their mental health. Many have named this mental health crisis the second pandemic.
Gyms can play a crucial role in the mental health crisis. In June 2021, the John W. Brick Foundation released their Move Your Mental Health Report. Out of 1,158 studies examined, 89% found a positive association between physical activity or exercise and mental health.
“I think the important change in words is not, ‘How can clubs incorporate,’ but ‘How must clubs incorporate mental health within their clubs,’” said Kevin McHugh, the COO of The Atlantic Club. “Unfortunately, mental illness and mental concerns are the fastest growing area in the medical fitness realm — not only in our nation, but also with our own members who are living with more anxiety and stress than prior generations.”
McHugh shared it’s also important for clubs to understand what they do every day, and to promote moving and exercise as not only being good for members’ cardiovascular wellness, but also, more importantly, for their mental health. “To quote Rudy Fabiano, an industry legend, regarding the role of exercise in mental health, ‘You are only five minutes away from a great mood,’” explained McHugh. “Exercise is the magic pill for mental wellness and there is no better market sector than health and fitness clubs to deliver this solution.”
A great place to start is by looking at what programming you are offering to your members.
“Clubs can offer more yoga, meditation, Pilates and stretch classes, and highlight them or market them as stress relievers to balance and complement rigorous workout routines,” said Tonya Jacobs, the general manager of Mercedes Club. “Clubs can also bring in mental health experts and offer complimentary lectures or blogs for their members about the benefits of exercise and its mental health gains.”
At Mercedes Club they offer guided meditation classes with no movement required, just stillness. They have also added private sound bath healing meditation sessions for members. “If your club offers spa services, like massage, you can highlight its benefits for mental and physical wellbeing,” said Jacobs. “Social gatherings and events like trivia and game nights can also contribute to a sense of community and belonging and create camaraderie and improve social wellness between members.”
Many clubs are already offering programs that successfully address solutions for individuals impacted by mental health concerns. However, McHugh said many clubs are not aware they already have many of the tools for a mental health offering of programs within their group exercise portfolio.
“For example, many health and fitness clubs offer mind/body classes as well as specialty group exercise classes which may simply require also addressing the positive benefits these classes can provide individuals that may be having mental concerns or struggling with a form of mental illness,” explained McHugh. “Health and fitness clubs simply need to consider repackaging their marketing message to better meet the needs of those impacted with mental illness — requiring little to zero costs.”
Moreover, McHugh stated he believes health and fitness centers will be addressing mental health for the future. For him, mental health isn’t a fad or a problem that was caused by the pandemic, rather, the pandemic made it easier to talk more freely about.
As society is moving at higher rates of change than ever before in history, McHugh said the role of health and fitness centers will become more important. The industry has the programs and can deliver the needed outcomes that allow individuals to learn how to successfully address their personal needs.
“Health and fitness clubs need to be at the forefront of leading the discussions around mental illness to mental strength and be a strong advocate in destigmatizing the perceptions surrounding mental illness in our communities,” said McHugh. “Our industry needs to understand the power it has in changing the world for those living with mental concerns every day. I encourage all clubs to get in this discussion with their members in 2022 and ask how they can help.”