While most people are cognizant of the physical and psychological advantages of working out, the social benefits of exercise are also important. This is indicated by the phrases that have popped into the English language in the past two decades. It's not uncommon to hear people talk about their workout buddies, workout partners and gym friends. This signifies the importance of the social benefits of exercise.
The Fitness Center as a Social Venue
In any part of the United States and overseas, it's not uncommon to see one to four fitness centers within a two mile radius. While one would think that it would be impossible for gyms in such close proximity to stay in business, somehow they manage to survive. If you ask any gym member why they chose one fitness center over the other, chances are he or she will tell you that it's the members, as opposed to the equipment and facilities that attracted them to a particular business.
In some cases, the fitness center also serves as a real-life, as opposed to an online social network venue. However, until recently, some business-oriented gyms discriminated in terms of race, religion, ethnicity and gender. For example, in the 1960s, clubs such as the New York Athletic Club, did not allow membership, to women, Jews and non-whites. Back then, for better or for worse, fitness centers served a social purpose, which was to create a meeting venue for certain elite members of society. Now, because of anti-discrimination laws, even elite gyms are open to anyone who could afford the membership fee and many a business deal has been sealed at some of the most upscale fitness centers.
The Social Benefits of Corporate Fitness
Corporate fitness centers began to gain popularity in the late 1980s. Aside from the benefit of keeping employees in the building during their lunch hour or breaks, management soon discovered that in-house gyms had some benefits that extended beyond reducing employee sick days. Workers who exercised together developed a sense of teamwork that could not have been accomplished through any type of corporate retreat or human resource department workshop.
Research on the Social Benefits of Exercise
One of the most interesting studies about the social benefits of exercise was performed in the United Kingdom. The research took place at the University of Manchester and was published by the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change. The study was entitled, In the Gym: Motives, Meanings and Moral Careers.
Over a period of two years, Nick Crossley, the researcher observed the social behavior of the members of a popular fitness center in Manchester. Crossley found that groups of members would arrange to gather at the gym on certain nights of the week. In some situations, they either went out for drinks after their workout, or they met for social gatherings outside of the fitness center. In some instances, he found that people went to the gym even if they were too tired to workout. They might have been following an ongoing romantic or work saga of one of their gym buddies. Crossley compares this with the need to follow the "stories in a book or soap opera." The gym also became a place where people could meet and talk to members whose expertise they required, whether it be a mechanic, a financial adviser or any other type of service professional they might need. Crossley also found that members eventually developed unwritten social contracts. If you did not show up for a few weeks, members would call to find out if you were okay.
Social Benefits Beyond the Gym
One need not belong to a gym to experience the social benefits of exercise. In some cases, people of similar interests will gather for outdoor exercise. For example, in Raleigh, North Carolina, some greyhound owners belong to Trail Hounds, a dog walking group that meets at various parks and trails around the city. In New York, Front Runners, a gay running group meets on a regular basis. New moms often form friendships with other mothers and will meet for stroller walks, which can often turn into mutual babysitting situations.
Whether you are moving to a new area, or just feeling lonely, consider joining a gym of doing some outdoor workouts. It's a great way to make new friends.