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Group exercise is better at reducing stress than solo workouts, according to a new study – and that’s a great message to broaden the appeal of classes, says Kate Cracknell
Gyms the world over are prone to using the same old marketing messages: slim down, tone up, look great. The focus is pretty much always on the physical.
Then we wonder why it tends to be the same old profile of people who always attend our health clubs.
What if we threw a new message into the mix: one that focused on the improved mental wellbeing and quality of life that gym membership can bring?
Why do this?
Well, first of all, it immediately broadens your potential audience, resonating with groups of people who currently lie in the ‘non gym-goer’ category.
Secondly, it focuses on results that are far quicker to achieve than those linked to physical appearance, meaning exercisers stay motivated – which in turn should lead to improved retention.
Sounds good doesn’t it? So what’s the message, and where’s the evidence behind it?
The message is this: if you’re feeling stressed, get down to the gym and do a group exercise class. Within just one month, regular participation will significantly lower your stress levels, and with it improve your quality of life.
Why group exercise in particular? We intuitively know that being active makes us feel better when we’ve had a tough day, so why not just recommend that people do whatever exercise they want?
The answer to that is simple: a new study, published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, has found that working out in a group lowers stress by 26.2 per cent – notably more than exercising alone.
The study set out to investigate the relationship between physical exercise and stress and quality of life, recruiting 69 medical students from the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine as the sample – a group well known for high levels of stress and self-reported low quality of life.
The students were allowed to self-select into a 12-week exercise programme: they could choose to take part in group exercise classes; to work out alone or with no more than two training partners; or not to take part in any regular exercise beyond walking or cycling as a means of transportation (the control group).
The individual exercisers were allowed to train in whatever way they chose – running or weight training, for example – provided they exercised regularly. The fitness class group took part in a minimum of one 30-minute LES MILLS’ CXWORX class each week; they could also take part in additional activity if they chose.
Participants completed the Perceived Stress Scale survey once every four weeks, as well as weekly surveys to assess physical, mental and emotional quality of life.
After 12 weeks, the average monthly survey scores showed improvements across all measures for the CXWORX group. Specifically, they reported a 12.6 per cent increase in mental health, a 24.8 per cent increase in physical health, and a 26 per cent increase in emotional quality of life. They also reported a 26.2 per cent reduction in their perceived level of stress.
Interestingly, stress levels among the CXWORX group had already reduced notably after just four weeks.
Meanwhile, although the individual exercisers tended to work out twice as long as the fitness class group (4.11 hours per week, compared to 2.95 hours per week for the CXWORX group), they reported no significant changes except in mental quality of life, which saw an 11 per cent increase.
The control group also saw no significant changes in quality of life or perceived stress levels.
If CXWORX participation can lower stress levels and improve the sense of wellbeing among medical students – a group well known to be under consistently high levels of stress – it seems logical that others might benefit in a similar way.
The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, receiving encouragement and motivation from those around you as you challenge yourself in your training, certainly appears to pay dividends beyond exercising alone when it comes to quality of life. And that’s surely something worth shouting about.