The Future of the Gym Is Hybrid (Just Like the Office)
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The Future of the Gym Is Hybrid (Just Like the Office)

Fitness studios are combining virtual and in-person classes.

By Nicole Ngyuen
Mon, Aug 30, 2021 11:17amGrey Clock 4 min

Every morning, Daniela Costanzo wakes up at 5, drinks a cup of coffee, feeds her two dogs, then heads to DFit, the Montclair, N.J.-based workout studio she’s owned for the past decade.

Last Wednesday was no different, except for one relatively new pre-class ritual Ms. Costanzo added to her routine during the pandemic. Before the early risers arrived for her first class, she powered on her laptop and started a Zoom meeting.

Two virtual clients popped on-screen, while eight students made their way into the studio. At 7:15 a.m., the crew started its full-body workout all together: a series of heart-pumping shoulder presses, squats, rows, lunges and core work.

In the Before Times, gyms and studios such as DFit were destinations—spaces with nice equipment, freshly laundered towels and, critically, no distractions from partners, kids or pets. Meanwhile, people who couldn’t get out used apps and connected platforms, such as Peloton, designed for home use. The pandemic forced the former to take a page from the latter, and many studios and gyms decided to continue providing home workouts, even after Covid restrictions lifted.

“I’m committed to it 100%,” Ms. Costanzo said. One reason, she says, is that going virtual is cost-effective. A Zoom business license costs about $20 a month. DFit currently offers six virtual classes a week, alongside indoor and outdoor workouts.

For now, the virtual classes are more of a necessity as the threat of the Delta variant looms large. While the studio is seeing more new clients looking to lose their pandemic pounds, attendance still isn’t at pre-Covid levels. Teaching over Zoom is also a drain on instructors, who typically draw energy from loud music and packed classes. Tracks have to be quiet, so students can hear the instructors.

“It feels like I taught four classes when it was just one. That’s how much energy it takes,” Ms. Costanzo said.

At the start of the pandemic, DFit instructors streamed live workouts free on Instagram. Some garnered over 100 participants—much more than a typical studio class. “For such a bad, uncertain time, the energy we felt through Instagram was phenomenal,” Ms. Costanzo said.

A week later, the studio began hosting Zoom classes for paying customers.

Clients can reserve classes through DFit’s online portal, which is operated by booking software Mindbody. About 12 hours before the class, a DFit employee manually emails each participant a Zoom link. Clients are charged normal prices—up to $25 a pop or unlimited access for up to $255 a month.

Ms. Costanzo’s regulars love the flexibility. “Right now, we’re in the heat of vacation season. But I have people joining us from Hawaii and from Germany.” One longtime client moved out of state to Philadelphia. “We’re thrilled we still have her as a client,” Ms. Costanzo said.

A Mindbody survey from February found that 65% of respondents intended to complete workouts both in person and at home in a post-Covid world. And in a survey from July, 86% of respondents who do virtual workouts said they continued to do them as much or more, even as studios are reopening.

Sunil Rajasekar, president of Mindbody, said that convenience is the push behind this consumer shift. “The experience is not the same as an in-person class, but it is way better than not taking the class at all,” he said. “It is also a great way for wellness businesses to expand their reach.”

During the height of the pandemic, Peloton and other at-home workout solutions soared, while gym operators struggled to survive. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association estimates one in four gyms permanently closed in 2020. Nationwide fitness chains Flywheel and YogaWorks permanently closed all studios that year.

“The chaos of the pandemic forced us to innovate,” said Joey Gonzalez, chief executive of Barry’s Bootcamp, which has 70 locations around the world, offering combination strength-and-cardio workouts.

Before 2020, Mr. Gonzalez wasn’t considering digital fitness for the company. The studios tout perks that can’t be offered in an app: workout rooms drenched in a nightclubby red glow, high-end treadmills with shock-absorbing belts, salon-grade products in its locker rooms and a recovery smoothie bar.

But Barry’s did eventually transition to Zoom workouts during the pandemic, featuring instructors streaming from their living rooms, dealing with audio and Wi-Fi issues like the rest of us.

“One of the most surprising things for us was people were coming to us from places where Barry’s doesn’t exist, like Dublin and Hong Kong,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

To reduce its dependence on Zoom, the company recruited an external agency to create its own Barry’s-ified live video-enabled workout experience, with trainers in a dedicated studio. Earlier this month, it launched Barry’s X, which streams via an app, website or the Forme smart mirror. Live streams cost between $12 and $20 a piece, or can be accessed through a monthly membership, which also includes a library of prerecorded workouts.

There’s some indication that the at-home boom is starting to bust. Peloton recently lowered the price of its original bike by 20%, in anticipation of slowing growth. And at the end of July, Barry’s studios were at 86% of pre-Covid attendance. But Mr. Gonzalez acknowledges that the Delta variant is hampering a full in-person comeback.

Equinox, the luxury gym chain, launched an on-demand fitness mobile app in March 2020, right as the global quarantine began. The app, called Equinox+, includes workouts from SoulCycle, Solidcore and other Equinox subbrands. A subscription costs $40 a month, but for Equinox members, who often pay upward of $200 a month, access to the app is included as a perk.

According to the company, those who visit a club and use the Equinox+ app are the most active members, working out one or two more times a week than those using the club or app alone. What’s funny is that some people even use the Equinox+ app inside Equinox clubs.

So it seems our desk-sharing, partially work-from-home future won’t be the only hybrid model in our lives. Some might refer to the new exercise paradigm as the hybrid gym. Others might say it’s “gym as a service.” I’m just hoping no one will call it “GaaS.”

Reprinted by permission of WSJ. Magazine. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 29, 2021.



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Anger Does a Lot More Damage to Your Body Than You Realise

We all get mad now and then. But too much anger can cause problems.

By SUMATHI REDDY
Fri, May 24, 2024 3 min

Anger is bad for your health in more ways than you think.

Getting angry doesn’t just hurt our mental health , it’s also damaging to our hearts, brains and gastrointestinal systems, according to doctors and recent research. Of course, it’s a normal emotion that everyone feels—few of us stay serene when a driver cuts us off or a boss makes us stay late. But getting mad too often or for too long can cause problems.

There are ways to keep your anger from doing too much damage. Techniques like meditation can help, as can learning to express your anger in healthier ways.

One recent study looked at anger’s effects on the heart. It found that anger can raise the risk of heart attacks because it impairs the functioning of blood vessels, according to a May study in the Journal of the American Heart Association .

Researchers examined the impact of three different emotions on the heart: anger, anxiety and sadness. One participant group did a task that made them angry, another did a task that made them anxious, while a third did an exercise designed to induce sadness.

The scientists then tested the functioning of the blood vessels in each participant, using a blood pressure cuff to squeeze and release the blood flow in the arm. Those in the angry group had worse blood flow than those in the others; their blood vessels didn’t dilate as much.

“We speculate over time if you’re getting these chronic insults to your arteries because you get angry a lot, that will leave you at risk for having heart disease ,” says Dr. Daichi Shimbo, a professor of medicine at Columbia University and lead author of the study.

Your gastrointestinal system

Doctors are also gaining a better understanding of how anger affects your GI system.

When someone becomes angry, the body produces numerous proteins and hormones that increase inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can raise your risk of many diseases.

The body’s sympathetic nervous system—or “fight or flight” system—is also activated, which shunts blood away from the gut to major muscles, says Stephen Lupe, director of behavioural medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s department of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition. This slows down movement in the GI tract, which can lead to problems like constipation.

In addition, the space in between cells in the lining of the intestines opens up, which allows more food and waste to go in those gaps, creating more inflammation that can fuel symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating or constipation.

Your brain

Anger can harm our cognitive functioning, says Joyce Tam, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. It involves the nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex, the front area of our brain that can affect attention, cognitive control and our ability to regulate emotions.

Anger can trigger the body to release stress hormones into the bloodstream. High levels of stress hormones can damage nerve cells in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, says Tam.

Damage in the prefrontal cortex can affect decision-making, attention and executive function, she adds.

The hippocampus, meanwhile, is the main part of the brain used in memory. So when neurons are damaged, that can disrupt the ability to learn and retain information, says Tam.

What you can do about it

First, figure out if you’re angry too much or too often. There’s no hard and fast rule. But you may have cause for concern if you’re angry for more days than not, or for large portions of the day, says Antonia Seligowski, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who studies the brain-heart connection.

Getting mad briefly is different than experiencing chronic anger, she says.

“If you have an angry conversation every now and again or you get upset every now and again, that’s within the normal human experience,” she says. “When a negative emotion is prolonged, when you’re really having a lot more of it and maybe more intensely, that’s where it’s bad for your health.”

Try mental-health exercises. Her group is looking at whether mental-health treatments, like certain types of talk therapy or breathing exercises, may also be able to improve some of the physical problems caused by anger.

Other doctors recommend anger-management strategies. Hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness can help, says the Cleveland Clinic’s Lupe. So too can changing the way you respond to anger.

Slow down your reactions. Try to notice how you feel and slow down your response, and then learn to express it. You also want to make sure you’re not suppressing the feeling, as that can backfire and exacerbate the emotion.

Instead of yelling at a family member when you’re angry or slamming something down, say, “I am angry because X, Y and Z, and therefore I don’t feel like eating with you or I need a hug or support,” suggests Lupe.

“Slow the process down,” he says.

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