Most people recognize that regular exercise provides countless health and wellness benefits, from weight management and reduced risk of common diseases, to a decreased risk of falling.
Overall, exercise improves physical function. Additionally, many people exercise as means of achieving mental health benefits, including reduced anxiety and depression, and improved sleep and stress management. But it’s unlikely that someone will experience those mental health benefits if they feel uneasy, unwelcome or even unsafe in the place they’re exercising.
How can exercise relieve stress, for example, if entering the gym creates its own list of stressors?
Harassment at the Gym
Consider the following rather upsetting statistic from a recent survey of nearly 4000 gym members:
— More than 56% of female gym members have experienced harassment at the gym.
— Of the female gym members who experienced harassment, 29% felt unsafe or uncomfortable at their gym, and 30% changed their gym routine or schedule or avoided certain areas at the gym; 20% changed their clothes or appearance when going to the gym; and 26% either switched facilities or stopped using gyms entirely.
There has been much discussion in the past two years about equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) — and for good reason. Health and social disparities disproportionately impact marginalized communities. In addition to gender and gender-identity differences, these also include race, ethnicity, sexual identity, age, disability, socioeconomic status and geographic location.
[READ: Radically Inclusive Yoga.]
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Some definitions of EDI:
The practice of being fair and impartial. While equality means providing the same to all, equity means recognizing that we do not all start from the same place and must acknowledge and adjust imbalances. The process is ongoing, requiring people, companies and organizations to identify and overcome intentional and unintentional barriers arising from bias or systemic policies and structures.
The practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations and more.
The practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those having physical or mental disabilities, or belonging to other marginalized groups.
Companies and government agencies continue grappling with how to address EDI concerns in all segments of society. However, individual people can make a difference too.
How to Be an Ally to People
So, what can you do to be an ally to people seeking equity, safety and a welcoming sense of community?
Here are some things you can do to be a better advocate for marginalized communities and individuals when selecting a trainer, group fitness class or fitness facility.
Be aware and ask questions:
— Does the facility welcome everyone with inclusive signage and marketing pieces?
— Do staff members use everyone’s preferred names, pronouns and gender identities?
— Does the facility offer options for lower-income members?
— Is the facility accessible to those with disabilities?
— Is it easily reachable via public transportation?
The list of potential questions is endless, but the key here is to increase your awareness of these potential concerns, even if they’re not applicable to you personally. Being a good ally requires supporting people whose needs and concerns do not necessarily match your own.
Actively seek out opportunities to work with trainers or group fitness instructors whose identity is different from your own.
Not only will this give you a chance to broaden your own cultural awareness and competence, it will provide an opportunity to an exercise professional who likely will be thrilled to have you come on board — particularly if they are new to the fitness industry or that facility.
Look at the facility or exercise class through an empathetic lens:
— When you enter a space, be mindful of how someone from a different background or identity might be affected.
— Is the group fitness room separated from the rest of the facility in a way that provides safety and privacy?
— How might someone who wears religious-based clothing feel when entering the facility or attending a class?
— Is the staff itself, as well as the facility membership, diverse in ways that represent the local community?
Educate yourself and be aware of your own behavior:
— Take some time to research proper terminology for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, for example.
— Learn about gender-neutral and person-first language.
It can be difficult to alter your behavior and the way you speak, but it’s a core element of showing others that you respect them, value their contribution to your experience at the gym and are welcoming them with the dignity they deserve.
As a member of a fitness facility, you may not have the ability to change signage or alter the physical layout of the facility, but you can still play an important role in making everyone feel welcome when they walk through the door.
An inclusive space welcomes, accepts and honors everyone in it, so make a concerted effort to learn about the people in your community through open and honest dialogue. Being open-minded and having a willingness to learn will go a long way toward building a stronger, more inclusive sense of community.
More from U.S. News
How to Be an Ally for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion originally appeared on usnews.com