Fitness brands are tapping into emotional health, reflecting consumer interest in holistic wellbeing and the overlap between mental and physical health. Now, consumers are embracing physical activity in search of emotional benefits, not just the physical workout.

In a feature for The New York Times, psychologist Kelly McGonial unpacks what she calls the “joy workout,” made up of different exercises intentionally selected to make people happy. The exercises – bounce, reach, sway, shake, jump for joy, and what McGonial calls “celebrate,” – are selected from studies on movements that elicit positive emotions. A playlist was created to accompany the workout video, and doing the workout with others was also found to have a profound effect on the exerciser’s resulting mood. “The Joy Workout is just one way to lift your spirits through movement,” she wrote, indicative of a new wave of intention to move for happiness, rather than fitness.

Fitbit is now tracking stress through its wearables, reflective of fitness brands’ growing attention to mental health. The Sense 2, released in August, includes a new “Body Response” tracker that monitors heartbeat, skin temperature, and sweat levels throughout the day. When a shift in these temperature norms occurs, the Sense 2 flashes a notification on its screen to check in with the wearer, prompting them to reflect on their mindset and situation.

There are several published studies that assess the way fitness affects a person’s mental health and memory: “Fitness tracking reveals task-specific associations between memory, mental health, and physical activity,” published by Dartmouth researchers Manning, Notaro, and Chen et al in August, hypothesized that if different forms of exercise could have correlated effects on a persona’s physical fitness, “the mental benefits of physical activity might be similarly differentiated.” The study focused on the way “different intensities of physical activity might relate to different aspects of memory and mental health.”

The report confirmed that, while results varied in memory and mental health states depending on the physical exertion, “physical activity does provide a non-invasive means of manipulating cognitive performance and mental health,” meaning “as strength training may be customized to target a specific muscle group, or to improve performance on a specific physical task, similar principles might also be applied to target specific improvements in cognitive fitness and mental health.”

People are moving to find joy, and fitness brands are aiding their ability to do so. Intent to feel good emotionally, not just physically, may indicate a change in the future of what we now call “fitness.”

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