While any type of exercise is beneficial, working out with others may be more effective.
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Are you a fan of hitting the road, gym, or trails by yourself?
Do you prefer to thrive in a group fitness class where everyone is moving, breathing, and toning together?
There’s no harm in staying active, regardless of what type of exercise you choose. This is especially true with so many Americans not following the national exercise guidelinesTrusted Source.
Research suggests that group exercise can have some positive effects on your health.
Group or solo exercise
It is well-known that exercise has many health benefits. Trusted Source. These include improving mood and sleep, increasing sex drive, and increasing mental alertness and energy.
Researchers looked into whether group exercise could be beneficial for medical students. This is a high-stress group that could benefit from regular exercises.
Three exercise groups were formed by 69 medical students to conduct the research.
One group performed a 30-minute core strengthening and functional training program together at least once per week. They also did additional exercises as needed.
One group was the solo exercisers who exercised alone or with two people at least twice per week.
Students in the last group didn’t exercise beyond walking or biking to get to their destination.
Researchers measured the students’ stress levels and quality of life at the beginning and afterward.
The students all started their studies at the same level as the mental health measures.
Group exercisers noticed improvements in all three aspects of their quality of life after 12 weeks. They also saw a decrease in stress levels.
Compared to the group exercisers, the mental quality of life was only slightly improved by solo exercisers. They also exercised for about one hour less each week than the group.
The control group did not experience any changes in their stress levels or quality of life at the end of the study.
There are some limitations to the study, such as its small size and inclusion of only medical students.
Students could also choose their exercise group. This can lead to differences in physical or personality that could impact the results.
The results should therefore be taken with caution. However, the research suggests the power of working together.
The study appeared in the November issue of The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
Working in sync
Another area of research is the effect of group exercise, specifically sync, on social bonding and pain tolerance as well as athletic performance.
Researchers conducted a 2013 study in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. They recruited individuals to row for 45 minutes.
People who had rowed with others and synchronized their movements had higher pain tolerance than those who rowed alone. Whether people row with friends or strangers, their pain tolerance increases.
Researchers believe that exercise can increase pain tolerance by increasing endorphin levels. This is due to the release of “feel good” hormones, which are released when people get in sync.
This type of coordinated movement is called behavioral synchro. This can also happen during other group activities like play, religious rituals, or dance.
You may be able to perform better if you are already close with other members of the group.
Researchers found that players who coordinated their movements during warm-ups performed better in a 2015 study trusted source in PLoS ONE.
These athletes were already part of a tight-knit rugby club. Researchers believe that the synched movements in the warm-up strengthened the social bonds between the athletes.
Researchers write that athletes’ perceptions of fatigue pain and discomfort may have been altered by this. Participants were able to push harder and perform better.
You may find that you can tap into the power and beauty of synchro when you are surrounded by cyclists who are spinning to steady beats or CXWORXing in a coordinated dance.
Not all group classes are created equal
Paul Estabrooks Ph.D., a University of Nebraska Medical Center behavioral health professor, discovered that exercise context influences how much exercise has an effect on the quality of life, social interactions, and the persistence of people who do their exercises.
Estabrooks and colleagues reviewed 44 studies to compare the benefits of different exercise contexts in a 2006 review.
These contexts were: Home workouts with a friend or a professional, standard exercise classes, and true group classes. Special techniques were used to improve social bonds among the participants.
The best classes were those that were in groups.
The standard exercise classes were not designed to bond, but they were very similar to the at-home exercise with assistance.
Last was working out at home alone.
The benefits of exercise are generally greater if there is more support from other people, whether it be researchers, health professionals, or exercise participants.
Estabrooks stated to Healthline that group-based fitness classes are more effective when they employ group dynamics strategies.
This involves setting goals for the group, giving feedback, discussing with others in the class, using friendly competition and including “activities that help people feel like they’re part of something — an identity.”
This may not be the case in all exercise classes.
Estabrooks stated that this is not the case with most group-based classes. “People show up, follow an instructor and don’t talk to each other, then they leave.”
While group fitness classes can offer additional benefits, not everyone is a spinner, body sculptor, or power yoga instructor.
One study showed that extroverts are more inclined to choose group-based or high-intensity activities than introverts.
It’s not a big surprise.
I am an introvert, and I teach group yoga classes. However, I rarely take group classes.
I prefer to do my yoga at home. Yoga is for me about being alone and looking inward.
Yoga could also be about social bonding and community for others.
It is better to be active than sedentary.
Find something you enjoy doing and stick with it, whether it’s going to a gym or hiking alone in the wilderness.