Exercise has countless physical benefits. People who exercise regularly can reduce their risk for heart disease naturally. Exercise is known to boost energy levels, and help folks get better sleep. But exercising alone can be intimidating. In addition to having to get over the mental hurdle of other gym-goers potentially judging you, women often deal with harassment at the gym. I don’t know about you, but that’s enough to make me stay at home.
Group exercise may be the answer to your (and my) gym shyness, and it may be even better for your health than exercising solo. A small study published in out of the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association looked at the effects of group exercise classes on stress and quality of life of medical students, and found that those who participated in group exercise enjoyed more health benefits than those who exercised alone or not at all.
This study is unique because it focused on a group that is perpetually stressed out — medical students. You may think medical students would know all about the potential health benefits of exercising and act accordingly, but a 2015 study found that many doctors finish medical school without getting any training on the importance of exercise.
“Group exercise is a great strategy that can help [...] improve your mood,” Chelsea Williams, a Certified Communicator in Public Health, tells Bustle.
It’s important to note that everyone is not able to get these benefits. Some folks are physically unable to exercise, and others suffer from depression, which can make exercise challenging despite the benefits exercising has on mood. "Telling someone who’s severely depressed to exercise an hour a week is like telling them to swim the entire Atlantic Ocean to London," psychologist Dorian Crawford told Bustle earlier this year.
That being said, there are plenty of benefits for people who are able to exercise, especially in a group. Ahead, you’ll find a list of mental health benefits for those who are able to participate in group exercise.
Increased mental quality of life
Study participants also reported to researchers on their perceived physical, mental, and emotional quality of life. After 12 weeks, those who were participating in the group fitness class showed significant improvement in their mental quality of life. Mental quality of life measures your satisfaction with your mental health, not just mental health itself.
The students in this study either worked out alone or with two other study participants. It’s only natural to talk about things other than exercising when meeting up with the same exercise buddies regularly. Group fitness classes can lead to friendships, and friendships are fundamental for stable mental health.
I personally never know how to use the equipment in the gym. Group fitness classes have folks who are beginners and folks who are experts. Beginners can learn from those who know more about fitness and gain the confidence to crush it at the gym.
Increased will power
A separate 2012 study had participants ride a stationary bike alone or in a group. Those who rode the bike alone peddled for 10.6 minutes, while those who rode in a group lasted 19.8 minutes. That's 87 percent more exercise. Whether there's an unspoken competition going on between workout buddies or you simply lose track of time chatting, exercising with others can lead to a longer workout, which when done carefully, has extra health benefits.
So next time you go to the gym, plan to take a friend or two with you. Whether you are walking on the treadmill or taking a kickboxing class, exercising with friends is great for both your physical and mental health. You'll also get a chance to catch up on eachother's lives. It's a win-win-win.