Exercise and fitness

The benefits of group exercise

Exercise and Fitness

14 May 2021

We all know that keeping active is important for both our mental and physical health, but sometimes it can be hard to keep up the motivation when we go at it alone. Exercising with other people has so many fantastic benefits but one of the most important is that it can be really good fun. You’re more likely to stick with exercise you enjoy, so why not try getting together and seeing what you can do to find your feelgood with others?

“Doing exercise with others is great for your morale, because you’re more likely to commit to taking part and feel a sense of achievement as a result,” says Thomas Rothwell, physiologist at AXA Health

“Moderate activities, like brisk walking, cycling, or tennis, when done for 30 minutes, five times a week, can actually be more beneficial to your mental health than vigorous activity*. They’re also perfect for doing with friends because they allow you to hold a conversation. The combination of exercising and socialising can serve as a great foundation to regularly take part in exercise throughout life, which leads to numerous health benefits. From increased self-esteem to improvements in your mental health from the effects of keeping active and socialising, it’s a real win-win.”

Top benefits of social exercising include:

  1. It’ll help boost your mood. Connecting with others makes us feel good, but socialising while doing moderate exercise releases the feel-good hormones, endorphins at the same time, so it’s a double whammy! Exercise can not only lift your mood, but also help you feel less stressed and better able to deal with challenges more clearly. For more on this, take a look at our article on the mental health benefits of exercise.
  2. You’re more likely to keep up momentum. When you exercise on your own, it can sometimes be tempting to slow down after a while, especially if you get tired or aren’t really enjoying what you’re doing. By contrast, in an organised group or class, the intensity of your workout is more likely to remain at the level it should be, meaning you’ll get the most out of it.
  3. Exercise becomes fun. You’re not alone if the very word ‘exercise’ puts you off being physically active. But if the focus becomes more about socialising, then the exercise part becomes secondary and will feel less like something you feel you ‘have to get over and done’ with. Plus, it’s worth taking the time to find out what activities you really enjoy, so that if you do exercise on your own, you’ll still enjoy it!
  4. You’ll keep going for longer. The energy of your friends will help keep you exercising for longer and, if you’re in a class, there's a teacher or trainer on hand to encourage you. Doing something with others also encourages a bit of healthy competition!
  5. You’re less likely to bail out. An advantage of classes and group training sessions is that they take place at set times, so can quickly become part of your weekly routine. And if you’ve committed to meet a friend in the park for a walk or jog, you’re less likely to cancel at the last minute.
  6. It’s a great way to meet new people. Joining an exercise class or a group, such as a walking or running club, is also a great way to meet and connect with like-minded people, as you'll have a shared interest in the activity you’re doing  and a desire to feel fit and healthy.

Here are some top tips for how you can exercise with a group, no matter what equipment you’ve got access to!

Set up your own fitness sessions. If you can't find a convenient exercise class or group to join, why not set up your own session – perhaps in a park? You could organise heading out for brisk walks several times a week with a group of neighbours and friends. Or, to help keep you moving during the workday, why not get your work colleagues to join you for a 30-minute lunchtime power walk. Do this three times a week and within a couple of weeks you'll not only start to feel fitter, but you may find you also have increased levels of energy and alertness that last you throughout the afternoon.

Join a walking group. It's a great way to meet other keen walkers and walking alongside each other is good for increased motivation and pushing yourself to venture that little bit further. If you have a friend with a dog, why not ask to go on their dog walks with them. If you regularly walk a dog, you’re more likely to meet the recommended levels of weekly physical activity [1].

Not only that, getting outdoors is also extremely beneficial for our mental health. From helping to ease feelings of stress to increasing happiness, studies have shown that spending just two hours a week is enough to improve our physical and mental health [2]. For more information, take a look at our article on the mental health benefits of spending time in nature.

Organise regular workout sessions with family and friends. While you could choose an activity you all enjoy, why not use this as an opportunity to try something new? Whether it’s an activity someone in the group already loves to do that you all try together or something entirely different, having a go together is a great way to have some fun while getting active. From a paddleboarding session one week to a cycling trip the next, there’s so much you could try. Get the kids involved too - the variety and fun factor will help keep you all motivated and looking forward to it!

Remember, however you choose to incorporate exercising with others into your routine, be sure to stick to any social distancing measures that are in place at the time. And enjoy yourself!

* The research around this area suggests that moderate intensity exercise causes a positive improvement in mood, while vigorous activity doesn’t. In fact, continuous vigorous activity, over time, can result in ‘overreaching/overtraining syndrome’ without someone even realising. This has various psychological and physiological symptoms, such as; fatigue, sleep disturbance, reduced appetite and mood changes such as apathy, irritability and depression. (Source below)

Further reading

Exercise and mental health benefits - AXA Health

Health benefits of swimming - AXA Health

Benefits of standup paddleboarding - AXA Health

Health benefits of dancing - AXA Health

Sources

[1] Westgarth, C., Christley, R.M., Jewell, C. et al. "Dog owners are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than people without a dog: An investigation of the association between dog ownership and physical activity levels in a UK community." Sci Rep 9, 5704 (2019).

[2] University of Exeter. "Two hours a week is key dose of nature for health and wellbeing." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 June 2019.

Peluso M., & Andrade L. (2005) ‘Physical activity and mental health: the association between exercise and mood’, Clinics, 60(1), pp. 61 – 70.

Sharma A., Madaan V., & Petty FD. (2006) ‘Exercise for Mental Health’, Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 8(2), pp. 106 – 107.

Berger BG., Grove JR., Prapavessis H., & Butki BD. (1997) ‘Relationship of swimming distance, expectancy, and performance to mood states of competitive athletes’, Perceptual and Motor Skills, 84(3), pp. 1199 – 1210.

Koltyn KF., Lynch NA., & Hill DW. (1998) ‘Psychological responses to brief exhaustive cycling exercise in the morning and evening’, International Journal of Sport Psychology, 29(2), pp. 145 – 156.

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