Thomas Rothwell, physiologist at AXA PPP, says: “Doing exercise with friends is great for your morale because you’re more likely to commit to taking part and feel a sense of achievement as a result. You’ll also feel good about yourself and motivated to do more.
“Moderate activities, like brisk walking, cycling, or tennis, when done for 30 minutes, five times a week, are actually 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. It’s a win-win.”
Top benefits of social exercising include:
- You’ll be in a better mood. Connecting with others makes us feel good, but socialising while doing moderate exercise gives you a double-whammy! The feel-good hormones released by exercise lift your mood, helping you feel less stressed and more able to deal with problems.
- You’ll keep a good pace. When you exercise on your own, it can be tempting to slow down after a while, whereas in an organised group or class the intensity of your workout remains at the level it should be, meaning you’ll get the most out of it.
- 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.
- 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!
- You’re less likely to bail out. An advantage of classes and group training sessions is that they take place at set times, so will 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.
- You’ll make more friends. 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 exercising and a desire to feel fit and get healthy.
Ideas for exercising in groups:
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? Or you could organise brisk walks several times a week with a group of neighbours and friends. Alternatively, get your work colleagues to commit to 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 might find you have increased levels of energy and alertness in 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 walk that little bit further. If you have a friend with a dog, why not ask to go dog walking with them. If you regularly walk a dog, you’re more likely to meet the recommended levels of weekly physical activity.
Organise regular workout sessions with family and friends. You could choose one activity you all enjoy to do regularly, or take turns to choose different exercises, for example a swimming session one week; a group walk the next, a ball game in the park the week after. Get the kids involved too - the variety and fun factor will help keep you all motivated and looking forward to it!
* 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)
Exercise and mental health benefits
‘Dog walking is good exercise’
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.