Mental Health: Loneliness, Movement, and the Fitness Studio Solution

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, our country has a mental health crisis—and loneliness is one of the biggest concerns. “Loneliness has reached epidemic levels,” says Murthy. And it can be detrimental to individuals and society as a whole. 

“The impacts of loneliness don’t end with depression and anxiety. Loneliness is also associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, and premature death.”

The joy we feel with other people is just different than what we experience alone. Doesn’t it feel incredible when you get a good hug? Go for a walk with friends? Or just simply knowing someone is thinking about you—and asking to hang out? It’s because we are wired for connection, and humans simply can’t thrive without feeling like we are a part of something. Murthy says social connection is as vital to human health as food and water and believes movement can “mend the social fabric of our nation."

So how do we relate to this crisis as movement enthusiasts, boutique studio entrepreneurs, and passionate fitness businesses? In more ways than you might think. 

Studies worldwide have proven that exercise combats depression and anxiety—and exercise combined with medication has a more significant impact than medication alone. We know movement is the solution to one part, so what makes movement in studios different from walking on a treadmill or lifting weights solo with headphones on at the gym? 

In 1912, French sociologist Emile Durkheim coined the term “collective effervescence” to describe the joy and euphoric state people enter when moving in unison with others. Even in the early 20th century, scientists realized that movement, and specifically movement together, can create a bond and level of happiness you don’t find in many other places. Fitness studios bring people together in the same way. A student enters a class with 15-40 other people, and they move, breathe, let go. The group takes on physical challenges, emotional breakthroughs, grooves to music, laughs, sweats, and ultimately accomplishes something together. That fitness feeling differs from riding a bike at home or going to the gym alone. Your classes are a beautiful remedy for the epidemic of loneliness. 

According to Kelly McGonigal, author of The Joy of Movement, “the feeling of collective joy helps explain why fitness friendships and sports teams feel like family. The neurochemistry that makes moving in unison euphoric also bonds strangers and builds trust.” That’s it! 

As a FitTech co-founder heavily involved in our studio partner's success, I hear owners say daily that their business is more than just a schedule of classes; it’s a community. Fitness studios are redefining and creating a new kind of community… and a new thread in the social fabric as we continually combat loneliness.

But what community means has significantly evolved in the digital era. We often interact over a screen. Zoom meetings, social media—the list goes on. Fitness studios have become a face-to-face solution. A new home to meet like-minded friends and socialize doing something that feels good, promoting a sense of true belonging and that they are part of a community that connects and matters. 

Science tells us exactly how to solve this epidemic level of loneliness, and it happens to be in your studio’s four walls. When I managed a yoga studio in San Diego, I witnessed countless connections, people coming out of their shells, and a group of people who genuinely cared about each other—finding a studio they called home. They didn’t just show up for class; they showed up for each other. 

Here’s exactly how Walla’s studio partners and their clients experience that irreplaceable client connection in the studio all the time:  

Our studio, Motivate, has been ground zero for creating friendships when clients have just moved to town. It’s where they get their daily dopamine swap! Even the spouses of clients have become friends after meeting at Motivate Socials!”
- Meghan Kinsey | Founder | Motivate Barre Cardio Nutrition  

“I always tell my daughters that for me going to yoga in the morning is like going to “homeroom” at school, where you report first thing and feel a sense of belonging with your friends before you scatter out to your other classes for the day.” 
- Anonymous Client |  Love Yoga

The most successful studios also offer opportunities to stay connected—not just via social media or over a screen, but in person. Once class is over, they have a coffee gathering, a book club, sign up for a race together, or host volunteer events. It’s so important to find ways, especially after the typical class offering, to encourage continued connection. The combination is a perfect antidote to the loneliness crisis we see today—and the boutique fitness industry has the responsibility as a collective to continue to embrace social wellness through movement because together, we are even more powerful.