Get active, get social, get healthy

For optimal health, exercise with others.

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We know that being physically active is great for our health and the good news is that science tells us we don’t need to be slaving away at the gym every day to reap the benefits. Even modest increases in physical activity can lead to significant benefits to our health.

But if you really want to optimise your physical activity, recent research has found that when it comes to exercise it can be worth joining a group.

Researchers from the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine got a group of medical students to conduct a 12-week exercise program. The students were allowed to choose between completing the program individually or in a group setting. Another group was recruited as a control, taking part in no exercise program. The group fitness classes were 30 minutes, once a week, while those in the “individual” setting were required to exercise alone or with up to two people at least twice per week.

On average, at the end of the 12 weeks, those exercising as part of a group saw a 12 per cent boost in mental wellbeing, a 24 per cent increase in self-reported physical fitness and a 26 per cent rise in emotional stability compared to the control group. They also saw a 26 per cent reduction in perceived stress levels. On the other hand, those who worked out individually saw an 11 per cent boost in mental wellbeing, but no significant changes in other areas.

The study authors were quick to point out that their research wasn’t a condemnation of individual exercise and that there were great benefits from participating in physical activity of any kind. But group fitness represents a unique opportunity to tap into the significant health benefits of both physical activity and social connection at the same time.

Top tips for getting active as a group

Get walking. Start a local weekly walking group with family and friends. Pick a place to meet, strap on your shoes and get walking. It’s as simple as that. For those who are a bit more competitive, check out www.parkrun.com.au for locations of free weekly timed 5km runs.

Start a club. Get a group of workmates together for a game of social sport. It might be an informal game at lunch time or an organised league after work. Either way it’s a chance to get active and build friendships.

Get down to your local park. Grab a ball and head down to the local park with the family. It seems simple, but chasing the kids around is a great way to get active while building quality connections with those you love.

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