Join a class, recruit friends, or find an online network to keep you on a fitness program.
Cycling classes look a little silly. You can ride an exercise bike on your own while listening to music of your choice or reading. So why cycle in a group at a gym with a workout buddy? Because it works: It’s likelier that you’ll show up, and you’ll pedal faster. Those benefits apply to nearly all activities. Community — and a little rivalry — will help you get and stay fit.
Groups are especially helpful when you want to start something new. You can get into a groove and later continue on your own. Take strength training and women. We all need to work our muscles as we age and they begin to shrink. However, less than 20 percent of women age 40 and up do strength training, according to a 2010 study, which studied the benefit of a group. Among women who completed a three-month group, nearly 80 percent continued to work out regularly, for more than a year, on average.
Participants in the Dean Ornish program for reversing heart disease commit to regular exercise, along with a strict diet. Their fitness often doubles within 12 weeks, and 90 percent are still exercising at the end of the first year, the organization reports.
Rivalry with a workout buddy can spur you to reach your own goals. Experts say you want to brush up against other exercisers who are fitter than you are, by up to maybe 40 percent. You’ll run faster next to a treadmiller who is a bit faster than you are on your own — but don’t try to match a speed demon.
Even virtual workout buddies can help. In one study, a third of the participants were placed in a social network of six peers. Each time one of the six in the group exercised, they all received an email. Group Two simply got motivational messages by email, and the controls didn’t get any support but promised to work out. In the end, the people in the first group exercised 1.6 more times per week than people who got no support.
If you like technology, find your perfect app. Anita Blanchard, an expert on motivation who teaches University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, says she uses RunKeeper, a run tracker app, to stay in touch with her own running buddies. Deborah Feltz, a sports and exercise physiologist, is developing computer-generated workout buddies to motivate astronauts to work out while in outer space.
At gyms, martial arts, or dance schools, look for activities that you haven’t tried before or maybe used to enjoy back in high school. If you love tap dancers in the movies, try it yourself. The change of pace can be stimulating — and the fact that you’ve joined a class or group may be even more important.
Remember that exercise doesn’t have to be expensive. In New York City, a group called The Rise gathers to do interval training early on weekday mornings, and anyone can come, for free. Many Meetup groups are focused on outdoor activities — hiking, walking, kayaking — or dancing. They can be easier to join than arranging to get your own family or friends out the door on a Sunday.
Plugging into a community built around exercise can have ripple effects through your life. In the women’s strength-training study, for example, the participants who had kept up their work-outs also had better eating habits and were generally more active than women who had stopped.
Your workout buddies can help you pinpoint and steer around obstacles, clueing you in to their own solutions. Groups can also help you see the big picture. You’ll hear the stories of people recovering from heart attacks or fighting diabetes. You might also talk to people training for marathons or hiking or biking vacations you might think were out of your reach — and find that they’re not. There’s power in numbers, as they say, inches lost, miles run, and friends cycling at your side.
January 31, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN