In a time where the health and fitness industry is shifting to a more holistic approach and prioritizing well-being, you can use this study’s finding to show how socialization has a powerful influence on health.
“Virtual offerings will never replace in-person programs.”
“People will return to gyms for the social aspects.”
“Humans crave connection.”
Phrases like this have been said over and over as the industry has navigated the pandemic. Owners and operators have preached humans need to interact with one another, but do we really know why?
According to Psychology Today, humans — because of necessity —evolved into social beings. Dependence and cooperation with each other has enhanced our ability to survive under harsh environmental circumstances. While survival threats have lessened over time, people continue to have a need to affiliate with others.
While industry leaders are correct — humans do crave connection — they often don’t realize socialization has a powerful influence on our health. While that’s an easy statement to make, there is actual scientific data that proves it.
In 1938, scientists began tracking the health of two groups of men — 268 sophomores at Harvard University and 456 ages 11 to 16 from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods — beginning the start of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. In the midst of the Great Depression, they hoped the longitudinal study would reveal clues to leading healthy and happy lives.
Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of this study, said in his TEDTalk about the study, research studies of this magnitude are extremely rare due to a multitude of factor such as participants dropping out, researchers dying or lack of funding. But the Harvard Study of Adult Development survived. In 2015, 60 of the original 724 men were still alive and actively participating in the study. In the same year, researchers opened the study up to more than 2,000 children of the original participants.
As the participants aged from teenagers to men in their eighties, they all went into different walks of life. Some became factory workers, doctors, lawyers and bricklayers. There was even one President of the United States — John F. Kennedy. Waldinger said, over time, some developed alcoholism, some climbed corporate ladders all the way to the top, and some came crashing down in the opposite direction.
While the study itself is impressive, you may be thinking what does this have to do with socialization?
After 75-plus years and thousands of pages of research, one clear message has been discovered — good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
Lastly, Waldinger said over and over the 75 years, the study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships, with family, friends and community.
In a time where the health and fitness industry is shifting to a more holistic approach and prioritizing well-being, you can use this study’s finding as an advantage. Host a social event at your facility so members can meet new friends, send the TEDTalk out to your members in your next email or even host a “Bring a Buddy Day” so members can work out with those they are closest with.
Knowing what you do now about the study, you can also take a look at yourself. How are your relationships? Do you have people in your corner you can rely on? Try replacing screen time with a night out with friends. Take a vacation day and spend time with your family.
The Harvard study set out to find what leads to a healthy and happy life. We have the answers. How will you apply it to your life now?