Be Social For Increased Exercise Benefits

SocialExerciseJacquie Eubanks RN BSN



Exercise, a boon for both physical and mental wellbeing, actively supports overall health, improves sleep, and reduces anxiety and depression. A recent study based on data from 8,500 adults who were part of the Copenhagen City Heart Study found that social interaction involving either an exercise partner or participation in team sports further enhanced the already plentiful benefits of physical activity. While exercise of any kind contributes to improved long term health and longevity, it appears that connecting socially while exercising may have an advantage over solitary activity. The findings reported in Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed a clear correlation between social sports and increased longevity.

It appears that regular participation in activities such as tennis, basketball, soccer or badminton, may extend one’s lifespan up to a decade, while solitary activities such as swimming, cycling, jogging and health club participation, may add one to four years. A large body of research shows that consistent activity offers numerous health benefits including chronic disease prevention and weight management, as well as cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and cognitive health support. Now, it seems, the addition of activities that promote social interaction may be just as important to long term health as social connection is to overall wellbeing.

A World Health Organization (WHO) study found that one in four adults worldwide don’t get enough exercise, putting more than 1.4 billion adults at risk of developing chronic diseases linked to inactivity. In the U.S., only 23 percent of Americans regularly meet physical activity guidelines during their leisure time. Perhaps combining team events and friendship with exercise is just the impetus many need to start and stick with an exercise program. One of the biggest challenges to exercise is motivation. Knowing that others are counting on us, provides the accountability and encouragement that may be missing with solo exercise. Being a member of a supportive team often encourages one to take their activity to a higher level, and for many, brings out their innate competitive spirit.

While more studies are needed to support the connection between group exercise and increased longevity, there are other reasons to make workouts communal. Research shows that healthy actions of those around us can have a significant impact on our own health. A study published in the journal Obesity found that overweight persons tend to lose additional weight when they spend more time with friends who are physically fit. Other studies show that working with a partner or a team not only improves performance but may also significantly increase time spent working out. Many appear to agree, as spin-cycling, dance-based classes and other group activities have been steadily trending for a decade or longer. Encouragement to reach personal bests triggers the release of feel good hormones that help create a positive attitude and encourage future participation.

Those new to fitness may find it best to work out solo before joining a difficult group session. One on one instruction can help draw the attention to areas of weakness or imbalances. Find a class or group setting that matches your level of ability to avoid injury. Friendly competition is fine but understand your strengths and limitations. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that those who engaged in group walking outdoors saw improvements in blood pressure, resting heart rate and body fat. Social walkers were also significantly less depressed. You may find that enlisting a friend for an enjoyable walk in the park, or participating in a boot camp work out, may be just what is needed to de-stress and lift your mood, resulting in an energetic feeling of overall good health.

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Various Leisure-Time Physical Activities Associated With Widely Divergent Life Expectancies: The Copenhagen City Heart Study.
The health benefits of working out with a crowd.
5 Reasons to Find a Workout Partner.
A Quarter of the World’s Adults Don’t Get Enough Exercise, Study Says.


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