Managing any commercial space successfully is an endeavor with many elements at play, and if visitors are going to spend many hours in said space, thinking about their comfort is a priority. In this article, we will be reviewing the importance of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) in a fitness center, which has its own set of needs and special requirements.
A well-designed HVAC system will not only comply with local health and safety measures but also have high standards for indoor air quality (IAQ). An already important feature for fitness centers, the question of IAQ has become under the spotlight since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more people, in general, becoming aware of its importance. In fact, according to Google Trends, one of the most searched queries worldwide during the pandemic was “is it safe to go to the gym?”. For regular gym-goers, a safe and healthy environment is crucial anytime, as is comfort, and so these spaces should take the measures to do just that, produce safe and comfortable environments to train in.
Fitness performance is connected to the ambience in which the activity takes place; temperature, ventilation, carbon dioxide, and oxygen levels are all factors that can positively or negatively impact a workout routine. Monitoring and managing these factors effectively will not only mean happy members but also contribute to a healthy business.
How does Gym Ambience Impact Exercise?
Ambience in any commercial space affects the feeling of comfort of its visitors, and its air conditioning system plays a key role in creating the ideal indoor environment. The concept of optimal thermal comfort refers to the feeling of being neither too cold nor too hot; and it is something that fitness centers, gyms, and health clubs strive to provide.
Taking comfort into account, and we’re sure you’ll agree, a gym’s environment and ambience should be welcoming, not only to garner the interest of potential new members but also for regular members. Considering ambience specifically, how do these factors impact fitness performance?
- Temperature: High temperatures can affect fitness in different ways. First, heat with low humidity leads to faster body-water evaporation, increasing the risk of dehydration, overheating and heat stroke. Second, according to recent research, high temperature also negatively impacts muscle endurance, reducing the ability for muscles to contract repeatedly over long periods of time, leading to faster muscle fatigue. Another effect to take into account is the spike in stress hormones that high temperatures can augment(such as cortisol, which is discussed below). However, warmer indoor temperatures can help warm up faster before a workout, resulting in better muscle flexibility and lower risk of injury. Then, moving to the other end of the thermometer, and as indicated by a Harvard sports medicine expert, working out in a cooler environment can increase endurance. The cardiovascular system doesn’t need to work as hard, allowing workouts to last longer; it should be kept in mind that extreme cold is also detrimental to fitness, as it puts the body at risk of hypothermia.
- Oxygen levels: It goes without saying that oxygen is essential for exercise and everything else that we do on a daily basis. Working out even in a moderately low-oxygen environment, like an unventilated closed space full of people, can result in a decrease in performance time; meaning that, on average, we are able to exercise less, and get tired faster. When performing physical exercise (of any level) there is a moment when your body begins to use more oxygen and requires more of it. To cope with the demand and to maintain energy levels, your breathing has to increase, as it does, so does the amount of CO2 that we produce, which takes us on to our next point.
- CO2 levels. Humans naturally produce carbon dioxide (CO2) when breathing out, so in indoor spaces, there are always varying amounts of CO2. Fitness spaces generally have higher levels of CO2 than others as we also produce higher levels of CO2 when working out or doing any strenuous exercise. Think about it this way: if there are many people training at the same time in a closed space, CO2 levels can increase quite rapidly. Higher concentrations of CO2 can cause drowsiness, a sense of stuffiness, headaches, and loss of focus and attention. For this reason, it is especially important to monitor CO2 in fitness centers to ensure the health and safety of members.
- Moisture: With physical exercise also comes perspiration, a natural response to working out. The moisture that we emit while exercising and through breathing evaporates and then it is either expelled through the ventilation system, or it collects in nooks and crannies; if this condensation isn’t properly managed, it can cause humidity-related issues, such as mold and other bacteria growths. Changing rooms and shower rooms are especially prone to humidity-related health risks. If left unchecked this can cause unpleasant odors and even respiratory issues, like asthma, coughs, throat irritation, and allergies.
For regular gym-goers, performance is fundamental. Those who exercise several times a week want to constantly improve their physical condition, to increase their performance, or polish their form. This is why fitness centers take the impact of indoor air quality seriously
Temperature, cortisol, and exercise
You might already be familiar with it but, as mentioned above, cortisol is a stress hormone produced in the adrenal glands above the kidneys, and it is deeply connected with physical exercise. Many think of it as simply a “bad hormone”, but that is not the case. Cortisol is vital for our bodies, it regulates blood pressure, our metabolism, and it even affects sleep quality. Our bodies produce more cortisol in the morning, and it goes down during the evening to encourage sleep. A higher amount of cortisol is produced when we work out, but this does not mean that it is a negative effect of exercise. Cortisol levels regulate themselves in a healthy body, and after a normal workout routine, they balance out again.
However, other factors such as temperature and physical or emotional stress can negatively affect cortisol levels. Studies have shown that at higher temperatures, our bodies release more cortisol into the bloodstream; so, working out in a hot environment can cause a spike of cortisol in the body.
Even though cortisol and stress are related, regularly working out can actually help relieve stress. After light to moderate intensity workouts, our bodies adjust cortisol levels, helping us feel more relaxed afterward; in addition, this type of exercise also improves sleep at night.
Fitness centers monitor indoor temperatures to keep them optimal for exercising and for normal cortisol levels, and to ensure that members don’t suffer from overheating.
Ventilation and Air Renewal for gyms
Ventilation is key in gyms to avoid stagnant air, minimize CO2 building up and reduce the effects of poor indoor air quality. Undesirable odors can be quite common in a fitness area, and ventilation and air renewal can help manage this issue and keep everyone more comfortable while working out in the same space.
Apart from keeping a comfortable environment, adequate ventilation also promotes air renewal. Through air renewal, which is bringing outdoor air inside to refresh indoor environments, oxygen and carbon dioxide can be maintained at optimal levels. Ventilation also helps reduce pollutants and allergens, as well as plays an important part in minimizing sickness.
Natural ventilation strategies include opening windows or doors from time to time to air the space. A combination of natural ventilation and air conditioning can be used to maintain an optimal indoor environment.
Keeping a Healthy Space for Comfort and Wellbeing
Alongside ventilation and air renewal, air conditioning systems use filters that help protect the interior of the product as well as, depending on the type of filter installed, help remove or deactivate allergens, bacteria and viruses.