Forget drab city gyms, rows of machinery in tones of grey and black filled with dead-eyed folk staring at screens and running nowhere. London’s latest workout options let urbanites boost their bodies in spaces inspired by nature, and tone up while saving the planet and supporting local communities.
Unleash Your Inner Tarzan
The start-up Biofit brings the outdoors in for a workout experience in a space that feels more forest than fitness venue.
All equipment is made from sustainably sourced natural materials, including cork muscle rollers and balls, wooden rowing machines and locally sourced, hand-carved pine wood pull-up bars and balance beams. Mats made from recycled wool and rubber and upcycled wood planter boxes are among other earth-friendly design elements.
The air is as fresh as that inhaled on an Alpine mountainside, thanks to purifying moss panels in the ceiling, plant-lined walls and zero VOC containing paints or materials used. Instead of digital screens blaring, lighting matches the body’s natural circadian rhythms, with blue tones to energise in the morning and redder hues later in the day to optimise sleep cycles.
Founder Matt Aspiotis Morley came up with the idea after time spent exercising in the beautiful landscapes of South Africa and Montenegro. He discovered outdoor workouts were a completely different experience with countless extra health benefits. “I intuitively realised there was magic to be had in replicating at least parts of that indoors, through what is known as biophilic design,” he explains.
“The gyms are designed to improve mood and reduce stress levels, not just to sweat in,” he says. “It’s a 360-degree concept designed for maximum health benefits and minimum impact on the earth. We think about the materials we use in the fit-out right down to the cleaning protocols, air-filtration system and humidity levels, as well as aromatherapy phytoncides (forest aromas) for focus and vitality, and acoustic world music playlists.”
The benefits of Biofit’s indoor green exercise concept are significant. Three-quarters of participants felt less stressed after a session and 80% were more connected to nature, according to a 2017 study.
In an era of city living where tech overwhelms dominates and mental health issues ever accelerate, Biofit’s indoor-outdoor workouts might just offer the perfect antidote.
Sustainable Pedal Power
At fitness studio Terra Hale, calories burned or miles covered during a spin class mean nothing. Instead, riders focus on generating as many watts as possible with each push of the pedals.
This is because the entire gym is people-powered, from the lights and scoreboards to the music pumping from the speakers. The total energy created is displayed on screens at the end of each class. One session alone might power an electric fan for 20 hours, illuminate electric bulbs for 43 hours and cut 165g of CO2 emissions, for example.
And everyone is working towards a collective goal, as whatever energy is leftover goes straight back into the grid for consumption by other Londoners. Materials throughout the gym are recycled and even the walls and door handles are made from reclaimed wood. Ivy trails overhead, its purpose to filter out impurities in the air and boost oxygen levels for a better workout.
Terra Hale means healthy earth, which sums up founder Michal Homola’s vision and desire for the future. He started the fitness studios after concluding that the environmental challenges our world faces are not only an issue for corporations and governments but rather a collective responsibility.
“We need to change the way we consume and the way we produce,” he says. “Our own health and wellbeing are interdependent on the health and wellbeing of our life-supporting ecosystem, our only habitat, planet earth.”
Physical Activity with a Purpose
London-based charity The Conservation Volunteers’ Green Gym scheme brings community members together to get fit while uplifting their local environment. Volunteers may find themselves planting trees, clearing invasive vegetation, or building boxes and ramps for resident bats and hedgehogs.
“The work can range from very light, perhaps dropping bark chippings, to the hardest HIT class – I challenge anyone to dig steps into a clay bank for two hours,” says managing director Craig Lister.
Research shows that as well as improving strength, balance and flexibility, time spent in green spaces alleviates mental health issues too. “Just eight weeks of participation in TCV's Green Gym showed clear enhancements in the cortisol awakening response, which is beneficial for health and wellbeing,” said Professor Angela Clow in a study conducted by TCV in conjunction with the BBC and University of Westminster. “Participants also reported marked reductions in anxiety and reduced feelings of stress."
The scheme also makes people more mindful of protecting the planet.“Once people have engaged with Green Gym, they tend to have a higher awareness of the value of green spaces, empowering them to make lifestyle decisions that are more aligned with a healthy environment,” Lister says.
People can find their nearest of the twenty Green Gym locations across London via the website or request funding to set up a new one in their area. And given the physical and mental advantages on top of the eco-friendly and social factors, there’s a huge incentive to get involved.
Writer: Kate Johnson