Can group exercise lead to healthier minds, not just bodies?

For many of us, the beginning of a new year is the prime time to start a new workout routine. The months and months of holiday snacking and sugar-gorging has led to a slightly thicker waistline, and the cold January evenings are the perfect time to sneak in a few minutes on the treadmill or a few laps in the community pool. I am certainly not immune to this cycle, and found myself in this exact same situation this year. Yet as I was weighing my options for exercise (Do I join a gym close to my house, or the nicer one farther away? Do I need a gym at all, or can I be disciplined enough to go running after work? Where do I find the right shoes and equipment that I might need?), I started wondering if perhaps my physical health, and my social health, might be intermixable. Could I chose an exercise program that actually helped me feel LESS lonely?

The benefits of exercise are well documented. Nearly everyone can rattle off the positive outcomes of getting active - released endorphins (those feel good hormones), reduction of stress, promotion of stronger resilience, increased muscle mass, and lessening of body fat. For nearly all people, exercise is good for our physical health - making us stronger, leaner, and more flexible.

But is there any connection between exercise and social health? Is there any way to make exercise more fun, and at the same time, turn it into a boost against loneliness as well?

Committing to any exercise plan can be challenging. But research shows committing to a group exercise experience, instead of a solitary one, can lead to wonderful outcomes far beyond the physical fitness ones. In a recent study in the Telegraph, researchers found that working out in groups led to increased mental well-being, physical fitness, and emotional stability - all things that together can help ease many of the feelings of loneliness. Armed with these insights, it was an easy decision - no more treadmill for me! I joined a group exercise studio in late December, and have yet to look back. With people (who are becoming new friends!) around, it's easy to show up even on rainy days, push a little harder than my brain says is possible, and come back even when every muscle is tight and sore. I'm equally as excited to get stronger as I am to make new friends who I can see multiple times a week. In so many ways, the research was right -- I do feel physically and socially stronger already, and you can too.

So what can you do if you want to add a group exercise routine to your Year of Connectedness as a way to help get both physically and socially fit?? It's easy!

1) Talk to your doctor if you have any questions at all

No matter how physically fit you feel, it's always helpful to chat with your primary care provider about her/his ideas on the best exercise for you. Get their check off, and then get going!

2) Find an activity you love

It's hard to gather the energy to go to any class you don't love. As a 'fallen' ballerina (with so many childhood recital pictures to prove it!), Barre has been a wonderful choice for me. I love the music, and the structure, and the focus on strong and flexible muscles. If you loved playing basketball as a child, why not join an adult league? If martial arts are your thing, most communities offer classes for teens and adults at the local YMCA. Find an activity you love and actually WANT to go to!

3) Start small

You do not need to exercise for hours every single day to reap the physical and social health rewards. A few minutes here and there can really start making all the difference in your body and your mind. It's totally ok to start small and work your way into longer sessions if you want to later - it's smarter for your muscles that way too!

4) Get your friends and family involved

Remember - the benefits toward lessening loneliness in group exercise comes from the 'group' component - so try to get your friends and family to join you in your social group exercise as well! It's a wonderful way to continue to build on the relationships you already have, and keep everyone's bodies healthy too! Those who sweat together, stay together ;)

5) Just go (even if you just lie on the mat for the full hour!)

Most days, just showing up is the hardest part. No matter how tired or how busy you feel, really push yourself to just GO. Remind yourself that your friends will be there. Remind yourself that you are worth it. Remind yourself that you will feel so much better during and after the class. Even if you have to just sit for the full class, being around others and supporting them as they exercise will do wonders to help quiet some of the pangs of loneliness.

As always - we are here for you! So let us know how your group exercise is going! We are so excited for a 2018 of healthier bodies, AND healthier minds!!