Vitamin N—as in nature—is one of the best medicines. There’s even a word for a love of plants and greenery: biophilia. And aside from your shower, your home, and your desk, there’s one more place having a couple cute succulents could really improve your quality of life—the gym.
Imagine combining the health benefits of forest bathing with those you acquire from a good sweat sesh? That was the vision Matt Morley had in mind when he started Biofit, the first biophilic gym, which opened in Calgary, Canada this past January. He initially became interested in bringing the outdoors inside after participating in a study of indoor green exercise in which the majority of the 118 volunteers reported lower stress, increased vitality, feelings of connection with nature, and improved mood. While it’s still a new field of research, scientists have shown that green exercise can improve a person’s physical and emotional well-being.
“Real breakthroughs come when we mimic what we did in human evolution.”
“People connect with nature at a deep, evolutionary level,” says Morley, which is why at Biofit, “you’re touching wood, rope, and bamboo rather than metal and plastic.” Needless to say, the gym’s design is organic. It features hanging plants, living walls, and natural building materials, all of which are intended to infuse the space with the same types of negative ions (a positive for people) found in nature. Don’t expect to find traditional gym equipment like treadmills. Instead the space focuses on strength and agility training using free weights like swing bells (an alternative to kettle bells made from a wooden handle and leather sand bag), as well as water rowers and bodyweight resistance work.
While it might be a one-off for now, Morley predicts biophilic gyms will be the future of fitness—at least when it comes to brick-and-mortar spaces. “WELL certification is the new LEED certification,” he says, referring to the International Well Building Institute’s distinction for spaces that improve the health of their inhabitants through sustainable, eco-friendly design.
In truth, there’s a growing interest in biophilic interiors in all sorts of fields, not just fitness. The concept is finding its way into the hospitality industry—with the 1 Hotels in New York and Miami Beach as prime examples—as well as offices, like Second Home, a biophilic co-working space with branches in Lisbon and London (and plans to open a third location in Los Angeles in 2018). More than 1,000 plants fill the Lisbon outpost, while floor-to-ceiling windows create a light-drenched environment, and the 90,000-square-foot L.A. outpost will have three times as many.
According to Second Home’s co-founder and co-CEO Sam Albenton, people are naturally attracted to green spaces. He notes that for most of human history, people worked (and worked out) outdoors. “Only after the industrial revolution did we work inside,” he says. “Real breakthroughs come when we mimic what we did in human evolution.” So does that make biophilic construction the primal diet of design?
If you’re looking for a little biophilic inspo for your own space, check out these Instagram accounts or tips for incorporating greenery into your interior design.