Head-scratching trends: For businesses and consumers, adding alcohol to fitness has benefits

The link between drinking and sports isn’t limited to the fans who are tailgating or buying overpriced beverages at the stadium. There are “beer league” sports teams designed to facilitate socializing. The drinking-while-exercising trend is notable because it’s expanding to individual sports, creating a new type of social atmosphere and encouraging camaraderie at gyms, group fitness classes and among runners.

Many react to the combination of drinking and exercise as a head-scratching juxtaposition of disparate objects. But it doesn’t take much to begin to understand the appeal.

A recent article in the Washington Post provided a nice overview of the trend, emphasizing business forays into this new territory. One example is the addition of beer and wine to Life Time Fitness clubs. It’s a lesson in user experience: if the gym becomes a social hub beyond just a place to work out, it benefits the business through increased revenue, retention and loyalty.

Beer Run

The article touches on the issue that some people see the addition of alcohol to exercise as sort of “dumbing down” the benefits of physical activity. Devotees of a healthy lifestyle may not be the target audience for the fitness club bar. But on the other side of the coin, this may be the incentive that drives a more sedentary audience to overcome barriers.

When people evaluate how to spend time, there are multiple options, and “relax” and “work out” are on opposite ends of the spectrum for many. “Have a beer in the backyard” has been an alternative to “walk on the treadmill.” But a circle of treadmills complete with built-in koozies might be just the thing that gets a person off the couch and working towards 10,000 steps. There are many people who relax by drinking, and assuming that isn’t going to change, if it can be supplemented by physical activity, it’s a net gain. If the approach is to make exercise more enjoyable and less of a chore to those who perceive it that way, that might equate to success.

This trend is an example of social norm change and innovation. If Life Time Fitness is willing to bust what has been socially unacceptable, perhaps frowned upon, or simply just never considered as a viable option because of people’s perceptions that physical activity and drinking are meant to be separate experiences, they not only position themselves for business success but may be helping their constituents make healthier choices.

It’s a prime example of meeting people where they are: They may not be ready to join a gym, stop eating fast food and quit drinking, but they ARE willing to add activity if it doesn’t take away from other priorities. If healthy behaviors are to become the norm, integrating them into unhealthy behaviors is one way to start.

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