Attending your first group fitness class can be daunting, but while your inner critic may be listing all the reasons an at-home workout would be much more your speed (YouTube yoga in our pajamas is our go-to), a new study may have you lacing up your SoulCycle shoes on the regular. Published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, the study found that mustering up the courage to try a group fitness class may actually help alleviate work-related stress and improve overall quality of life, even for a group specifically known for high levels of stress and low quality of life: medical students.
Researchers at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine recruited 69 first- and second-year osteopathic medical students, who clock extraordinary long hours while learning high-stakes techniques. Each participant self-selected a 12-week exercise program either within a group setting or as individuals (a control group was also set up that abstained from exercise other than walking or biking as transportation). Participants completed a survey every four weeks that asked them to rate their levels of perceived stress and quality of life in three categories: mental, physical, and emotional.
The survey found that those participating in group exercises (that is, those who spent at least 30 minutes per week in a core strengthening and functional fitness training program) self-described significant improvements in both quality of life and stress reduction. Group fitness-goers reported 12.6 percent higher mental health, 24.8 percent higher physical health, 26 percent higher emotional health, and a 26.2 percent reduction in perceived stress levels. By comparison, while individual exercisers worked out for nearly twice as long, they saw no significant changes in any measure, including physical health, except for an 11 percent increase in mental quality of life. The researchers are careful to note that this doesn’t mean individual exercise is bad — any physical exercise is beneficial for overall well-being — but there could be additional benefits to working out in a group.
“The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone,” says lead researcher Dayna M. Yorks. “The findings support the concept of a mental, physical, and emotional approach to health that is necessary for student doctors and physicians. Medical schools understand their programs are demanding and stressful. Given this data on the positive impact group fitness can have, schools should consider offering group fitness opportunities,” she added. “Giving students an outlet to help them manage stress and feel better mentally and physically can potentially alleviate some of the burnout and anxiety in the profession.”
While this particular study only focused on several dozen medical school students, we suspect these findings could be translated to anyone with a stressful job or home life. So if you’re needing that extra push to sign up for high-energy Zumba or a local yoga class, this is it. Go get your sweat on, lady!
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