April 22, 2023
Are you one of those people who likes to exercise alone? Or maybe, like a lot of folks, you prefer to join in group exercise. Makes no difference, right? As long as you are exercising, that’s a good thing!
Turns out that a recent study done on a group of 69 medical students suggests if you are a loner when it comes to exercise, you might want to rethink your choice. Previous research has shown that there are robust positive benefits of exercise on mental and physical health but not much work has been done on group versus solo exercise and these outcomes. Here’s how this study was set up: There were three groups and each participant got to choose their own group, which is a bit of a red flag in terms of study design, which we will discuss briefly in a moment.
Study Design - Three Groups
The first group exercised once a week in a group, following a core strengthening and functional fitness training program. They could also add extra exercise to this if that appealed to them.
The second group were the loners, who either worked out by themselves or with up to no more than two workout buddies at least twice a week.
The third group was the control, who did not exercise at all, other than the walking or bike riding they usually did to get to places they wanted to go.
The researchers gave all the study participants tests which measured self-perceived mental, physical and emotional stress, both at the beginning of the study, and then every four weeks until the study ended after twelve weeks. All 69 medical student participants were pretty much alike on the measures at the beginning of the study.
At the end of the study, those participants who exercised in a group with others had a measurable decrease in their levels of stress as well as showed improvements in the measures of quality of life.
The loners, even though they got in almost an hour more exercise a week than the group exercisers, only showed improvement in the mental quality of life measures, but not their perceived stress levels.
In the control group, nothing much changed, as expected.
So what can you take from this? First of all, there were some limitations to this study which prevents us from making blanket statements about group or individual exercise. For one thing, the total group size of 69 is fairly small and included only medical students. The other problem with this study is that the participants got to choose their own exercise group, so there may have been pre-existing personality or physical differences between the two groups from the start. The other problem with this study is that the results relied totally on self-report, meaning that no objective measures were reported, such as effects on sleep, which could have been measured wearing an electronic wristband.
However, the study does definitely point the way toward more research in the area, and suggests that working out in a group, rather than alone, may have definite benefits. This is not too surprising, given that we humans are social creatures by nature and that science is just beginning to understand how strengthening our social bonds with other humans affects our physical, mental and emotional health. In any case, for many people, it’s a lot more motivating as well as fun to exercise in a group. So, call your workout buddies and make a date to break a sweat together!
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