Studies throughout this century continue to conclude that we are happiest, healthiest, and smartest outside. Yet there was never just one platform for fitness in nature, nor a variety of classes. You could join running clubs or football teams, but not pop into yoga on the common and barre by the Thames. Certain types of fitness were bounded by studios or outdoor groups that only specialised in one sport. BUA set forth to bring all types of fitness and well-being back into nature.
Green exercise – the healthiest way to sweat it out
Green, natural spaces have long been heralded as beneficial for our health. In the UK their importance rose during the Industrial Revolution with wealthy industrialists developing urban parks in the name of good public health and hospital gardens heralded for their healing properties.
But what about now? Does nature still hold an effect over us and our health?
Nature – our first love
We began in nature and as hunter-gatherers the outdoor environment was our only environment. Through these beginnings many believe we have an innate affiliation with nature. In the design world it’s called the Savanna preference – an intrinsic love for park-like landscapes that feature openness, grass, scattered trees, visible water and signs of wildlife. This preference was likely to provide adaptive benefits to our ancestors – those who lived in savannas enjoyed a distinct survival advantage over those who lived in harsher environments. This preference holds true across all ages ranges and cultures, but is strongest in children (this probably explains why the Teletubbies and the green landscape of their home mesmerized so many).
Architects have long looked upon nature as inspiration to create a certain outcome in a certain space – high ceilings that hark back to high tree canopies and open skies promote abstract thinking, and unknowingly extend the time someone spends there, whereas low ceilings are used to promote detail-oriented thinking (think of an operating theatre) and minimizes loitering (fast-food restaurants). Being outdoor will make your thoughts bigger. Blue sky thinking is real.
Nature helps us ‘switch off’. Our familiarity with it means nature does not demand our direct attention. It allows restoration and recovery from mental fatigue and a fatigue that grows the more time we spend behind our screens multitasking. This background screen stress is at an all-time high as we continue to WFH and when we want distract ourselves or wind down we automatically switch on Netflix or check our online socials.
The biophilia effect – a state of reduced stress and improved concentration resulting from nature views is what BUA is about. Adrenaline, noradrenaline, and the stress hormone, cortisol, all fall after being in nature suggesting nature’s power over both main stress systems – the sympatho-adrenal medullary and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. Reductions in adrenaline also boost immune function, with studies showcasing stronger immunity for up to 30 days after a 3-day forest trip for males and 7-day high for females. The Japanese, for this reason, sanction ‘forest bathing’ exercise or Shinrin-Yoku for those with heart issues.
Even images of nature in art and photographs as well as interior plants can trigger this effect – but it is at its greatest when we are immersed in the Great Outdoors. When we throw exercise into the nature mix, our mental benefits skyrocket. Exercising in nature boosts physiological, psychological, biochemical and social levels, almost unknowingly.
No persuasion necessary
Showcasing the social and entertainment benefits of physical activity are more successful than those promoting health benefits to persuade individuals to exercise. The green environment alone increases the enjoyment factor due to our innate preferences for nature and its escapism from everyday urban life. Nature is our entertainment even if we don’t fully appreciate its power. It has even been found in those of us who don’t want to move, who are semi-sedentary, that green exercise provides a push for behavioural change and a drive to work out more.
Alongside the entertainment value of being outside BUA classes are social by being group based. BUA has designed a movement that research has shown to be most successful in helping people move, to keep them moving, and to be happiest.
Eyes on the prize
Working outdoors also suits fitness trainers. Outdoor space is, for the most part, limitless, so class numbers can be as large as they can handle. This also means there aren’t any caps on trainers’ earnings unlike in smaller studio spaces. Furthermore, we work with what nature has given us – there are no additional duties for our trainers outside – no reception desks to host, bathrooms to clean – the park is there, is open, and free to use. So, fitness trainers are only there to do what they do best – get people into the best shape and health of their lives. Moreover, our platform ensures trainers’ lives are lived outside not at a desk chasing payments, working out marketing strategies, or booking in clients.
A scalable technology opportunity
With all the reasoning behind why humans are driven to be outdoors, BUA saw the opportunity and the gap in the market to connect supply and demand for group outdoor exercise. BUA hunted great cityscapes and green oases all over London city, matched local trainers and pulled in clients using technology to bolster these connections.
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