Why Young People Feel Shut Out of Health
88% of young people aged 14-25 want to be healthy, but only 8% believe they are.
And yet, this generation is not an unhealthy one. Smoking, drinking and drug use amongst young people has taken a long-term nosedive.
Instead, it is society’s narrow, perfected and unattainable definition of health and fitness that means young people are hesitant to define themselves as being healthy.
The fitness industry takes itself too seriously. It is obsessed with numbers, achievements, tracking steps, burning calories and being an athlete.
All of this is set against a backdrop of toxic aspiration on Instagram and a social world of ultra-curated, impossible to achieve bodies.
#Fitfam, #fitspo and #fitlife perpetuate the phenomenon. As a result, young people are reluctant to consider themselves to be healthy if they had a beer yesterday, indulged last week or they don’t have a perfect-six pack.
Boutique gyms, a category which has skyrocketed over the last few years, are aspirational but many promote exclusivity and are unaffordable for the generation coming to adulthood.
Soul Cycle tote bags and Barry’s shakes are paraded around like badges of honour, but the emerging brands taking up headspace don’t always stand for a fitness that everyone can enjoy or pursue. In the worst case, they strengthen a very narrow, very middle class ideal.
Encouragingly, we are seeing a groundswell of resistance against this. Inclusive grassroots fitness communities such as This Girl Can, Ladies Who Lift, Swim Dem Crew and Outdoor Voices represent fitness for anyone; no matter what shape, size or ability. They are more social, more specific around a training goal, more about the feeling and less about the look.
We know that this generation’s way into training is physical, but it’s the mental benefits that keep them at it. It helps them sleep better, reduces stress, helps them feel less distracted, less lethargic and their training sessions are as important to them as their work and social lives (source: Virtue Interviews 2019).
This is crucial for an anxious, time poor demographic where the endorphin rush from training can make them feel much more positive and energetic.
As technology and the experience economy have introduced variety, serendipity and novelty into fitness, the voices of the industry need to recognise this, take themselves less seriously and be more fun.
Using your body should be one of life's great pleasures like food, sex or sleep. It releases a cocktail of mood boosting endorphins that leaves people feeling great.
It is not a narrow set of behaviours or a defined way of looking.
It is not a moral imperative.
It is not a judgement on your character.
It is something anyone can enjoy or pursue regardless of shape, size or starting point.
Kris Jalowiecki is strategist at VIRTUE Worldwide
Creative Agency: VIRTUE Worldwide