Fitness now goes beyond individual health outcomes



Fitness philanthropy is a recent phenomenon in which physical activity is used for philanthropic purposes (such as fundraising or raising awareness for a cause or charity). In a recent analysis, researchers explored how a local running community is harnessing fitness for broader health and social outcomes.

“On the way back to the starting point, we pass some sleepers in the street who are walking slowly with big bags and sleeping bags. I always feel a sense of awkwardness and helplessness when we pass homeless people on the street wearing our GoodGym t-shirts. For me, people on the streets are probably in urgent need of help, and I wonder what kind of good we are doing and how our good deeds have an immediate impact on the people who have it the most. need. They move to the side as we run past and I hear one of them say to his friends in offensive words, “Let them pass, let them pass, they run and they do good things.” », Before shouting words of encouragement. We turn around and wave back to acknowledge that we have heard… ‘ (Researcher’s field notes, September 2018)

The scene of a runner making his way along a street is a familiar scene to those of us who live in urban areas of the UK. Sometimes it feels like everyone has started running, especially now that gyms and other sports and physical activities are temporarily unavailable. Runners move through streets, parks and tracks, their rhythmic steps navigating sidewalks, traffic lights and other road and sidewalk users.

What might not be so familiar is the scene of a group of runners – often of varying ages and fitness levels – moving around with gardening gloves tucked into their belts, s’ stopping to energetically tidy up a community garden, path or other public space. They could then perform a few lunges and squats, before running off again. And yet, these scenes have become familiar in more than 50 urban areas in England and Wales.

Fitness philanthropy

I participated in the GoodGym activity for 15 months in two urban areas in the north of England as part of my doctoral research into everyday forms of ‘fitness philanthropy’. Fitness philanthropy is a recent phenomenon in which physical activity is used for philanthropic purposes (such as fundraising or raising awareness for a cause or charity). I was intrigued to see how GoodGym harnesses fitness for broader health and social outcomes.

A GoodGym community project to clean up and manage the environment. (From Tupper, Atkinson & Pollard, 2020)

GoodGym describes itself as a community of runners with a social purpose. They run together to accomplish community missions and tasks, helping charities and other community and volunteer groups. Individual runners also run to visit isolated elderly people in their homes.

Their philosophy is not only to help and connect with others, it is also about energy; not to “waste” human potential, but rather to harness it and use it for good. As you move around urban areas, it is easy to identify places and causes that could be the focus of a little energy, love and care.

The methodology of the project was ethnographic, which involved playing an active role as a volunteer in the programs. I wanted to know how they worked in practice, what were the experiences of people from the programs and the wider effects on health, society and space that the activity brought about.

It would be easy to see GoodGym’s model of “getting fit and doing good” as simply “checking all the boxes” – a pro-health and pro-social activity that helps people get in shape while helping community initiatives and public spaces. What is missing from a check-off approach, however, is the way the GoodGym activity unfolds – literally – how it elicits physical and social engagement and interactions in an often highly visible public space. This is what we focused on in our recent program analysis.

Fitness as more than individual health outcomes

What is interesting about voluntary movement programs more generally is that they form a connective tissue between different collectives, for example the private and the public. This is not only in terms of services (e.g. health and social care services) but in terms of spaces, bringing movement, activity and social interaction within the domestic boundary of the home – eg meeting people at their doorstep and moving together outside as seen. in the Move the Masses “Move Mates” program.

The challenge for the future is to help these programs become sustainable, integrated and connected while maintaining their fluidity and responsiveness to emerging health and social issues.

What made activities like GoodGym real, meaningful and memorable were often the spontaneous events and interactions that occurred during the physical activity, as well as the relationships that participants built over time with each other and with each other. the spaces in which they live and move.

It reminds us that well-being is not a stable resource that we own or possess as individuals, or a transactional process, but an effect that emerges through our encounters with others and the world. We can see it quite simply in the way in which moving physically together in GoodGym generates much greater therapeutic potential than an individual doing the same activity alone.



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