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5 min read Science & Wellbeing Health

The world’s first biophilic gym concept

Words by Alicja McCarthy

Illustrations by Stephanie F. Scholz

Biofit is a brand new nature-inspired gym concept that launched in January 2017. The idea aims to bring the great outdoors into urban fitness environments by harnessing the benefits of Vitamin N(ature) to improve body and mind. Having launched with a pop-up in the UK, Biofit became a physical reality. Adopting biophilic design to fitness, the low-tech space featured handmade natural wood and fibers kit and apparatus, used indigenous flora with oxygenating properties to improve air quality, as well as aromatics and acoustic sounds to improve concentration and productivity.

The Biophilia Hypothesis

The inspiration behind Biofit is the biophilia hypothesis introduced by Edward O. Wilson in the early 1980s. His idea that humans need to connect with nature instinctively is more than prevalent today. We know that biophilic design and architecture has previously been found in residential buildings, offices and hotels but Biofit is the first to bring nature (bar a few pot plants) into indoor gyms. Founded by fitness master Matt Morley who has over twenty years experience in hospitality and journalism, but is also an amateur trail runner, swimmer, surfer, martial artist and yogi, he believes that fitness of the body equals fitness of the mind. 

 

“It’s about linking mind and movement, body and breath, staying present in the moment as it’s happening”, explains Morley.  “We’re asking people to learn new movement skills, they are having to engage their brains, digest what they see demonstrated and then practice the skill in real time. This requires concentration and develops new neurological pathways, something that study after scientific study has shown can delay the development of dementia later in life and generally keep the brain active”.

“This develops new neurological pathways, something that study after scientific study has shown can delay the development of dementia later in life”

A 360° Approach

A significant part of the Biofit concept involved research as the idea was being realised. Morley and his team spent two years developing the truly biophilic experience where every feature needed full holistic attention. “It would be easy just to add some greenery and Astroturf to a gym but to make it truly biophilic requires a complete 360° approach that touches on every detail of the experience, from the music to the aromatherapy, visuals, materials, equipment and even the type of training that takes place inside.”

A Scalable Business

The Biofit concept looks to establish itself not as stand-alone independent gyms but as part of a public, private and corporate landscape. With an increased demand for many organisations to offer stakeholders and employees beneficial means towards wellness, the aim is to create a network of spaces globally to allow people to reconnect with nature without even leaving their building.

Rooted in Research

Be it an office or a residential space, determining the rewards of not only fitness but also the reconnection with nature needed further measuring.  Morley recently collaborated with UKActive, the UK’s leading not-for-profit health body for the physical activity sector, on the world’s first scientific study into health benefits of indoor green exercise. “At a certain point I became aware that the Biofit showroom was effectively the first instance of a fitness facility based around ‘indoor green exercise’. Having taken an interest in the growing body of research on healthy buildings by the likes of Interface / Human Spaces, I wanted to contribute to that in some small way with my own research. Biofit is about more than just warm, fuzzy feelings for nature, I wanted tangible data around the wellness benefits of a gym experience, so for that I turned to UKAactive Research Institute who were already aligned with the University of Essex’s Green Exercise Group”.

“Biofit is about more than just warm, fuzzy feelings for nature. I wanted tangible data around the wellness benefits of a gym experience”

Unique Insights

The results of this study were published late March 2017 with some astounding results. The research was led by Dr Steven Mann, UKActive Research Director, with input from Dr Mike Rogerson, Post-doctoral Researcher at the University of Essex’s Green Exercise Team. The study, which was carried out during the Biofit London pop-up found that of the 118 respondents, 75% reported feeling less stressed after their Biofit session and 87% reported an improvement in their positive mood. Furthermore, 80% reported feeling more connected to nature, a trait associated with vitality and purpose. Dr Mann commented, “Biofit evoked a statistically significant change in both positive and negative mood states, with the workout increasing positive moods and decreasing negative moods among participants. Being active in this setting also led to 80 per cent of participants reporting that they felt more connected to nature as a result and it would be interesting to explore over a longer period whether this translates into additional health benefits.”

The Future of Exercise?

With results pointing to only positives, the Biofit concept is an astounding non-brainer. Why would anyone want to run to nowhere on a mechanical treadmill when programs and facilities by Biofit not only give users physical results but also meditative ones, is anyone’s guess. We just hope that more organisations take heed of Biofit’s concept. No indoor activity will replace the great outdoors, but when you adopt the essence of nature in inventive and scientifically proven ways, we are all for it.

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