Trend Report: Social Connection is the Future of Wellness (Part I)

As club operators likely know, wellness-minded people are looking beyond physical fitness. After a long spell of isolation brought on by the pandemic, health-focused consumers are increasingly realizing that social connection is integral to their wellness goals.  
According to the 2023 Global Wellness Institute’s annual trend report, the future of wellness lies in its social component. That’s why it’s no surprise to discover a recent surge in social wellness clubs that are designed to create community and promote interpersonal interaction. 

In large part, it’s a reaction to today’s loneliness epidemic. According to a study commissioned by The Cigna Group, loneliness rates have more than doubled in the United States during the past 40 years, with 58% of adults and 79% of young adults reporting they’re lonely. It’s a global issue as well: Gallup found that 330 million adults worldwide go up to two weeks without talking to family or friends. 

Why does this matter? Well, according to the National Institutes of Health, there is evidence that people who are socially engaged are healthier and tend to live longer. There’s a clear need for all wellness-related companies to reimagine their businesses through the lens of driving more human connection and developing plentiful opportunities for people to interact and bond.

However, creating environments for natural social connection is challenging. According to Anna Bjurstam, senior strategic wellness advisor for Six Senses, to develop a social wellness environment, “It’s all about the right vibe. You have to know your audience, and there’s no instruction manual.”

That said, it can be instructive for fitness club operators to look at examples of gyms, fitness studios and clubs that have been early adopters of social wellness programming. One oft-cited role model is SoulCycle, which popularized the idea of tribal fitness. Sure, a SoulCycle session was an exercise class, but it was so much more. The concept succeeded because it delivered motivational therapy and cathartic group bonding along with the workout. 

Today, many clubs are being designed from the ground up to meld fitness and social wellness. For example, Groundfloor, a membership club in San Francisco, has a gym and a wellness studio, but it also has a lounge which hosts everything from comedy shows to art classes. Heimat is a luxury gym and social wellness club concept. The Los Angeles outpost has a wide range of fitness offerings, along with social events and co-working spaces. Berlin-based John Reed Fitness also hosts comedy nights and has in-house DJs in all their clubs.  

Most of the aforementioned clubs are high-end concepts, designed for the consumer who is willing to pay thousands of dollars in membership fees every year. But social wellness can be democratized as more gyms and fitness studios become part of the solution. In Part II, we will examine practical ways your business can transition from fitness center to social wellness club, even without a lot of extra space or capital.