Grab a Friend and Get Going: Why Group Exercise Is the Key to Enjoying Movement

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Not everyone loves exercise and that’s OK! But, the pros of exercise do far outweigh the perceived cons. While moving your body can feel hard at times, the benefits it has on your physical and mental health are huge, which is why it’s encouraged so fiercely by health experts.

A new study, published in the Frontiers in Psychiatry journal, has once again confirmed the importance of exercise on your body and mind. While this is widely known already, this research has also highlighted the importance of group exercise in improving one’s feelings towards working out.

Researchers at the University Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany studied 41 participants who were being treated for depression. Participants were divided into two groups, with one completing a three-week exercise program while the other group didn’t exercise.

Created by a university sports science team, the exercise programme was collaborative and involved group workouts that were designed to encourage “social togetherness”. None of the exercises were created in the spirit of competition, rather asking participants to work together instead.

“This specifically promoted motivation and social togetherness while breaking down a fear of challenges and negative experiences with physical activity — such as school PE lessons,” said study leader and associate professor Dr Karin Rosenkranz. 

According to Science Daily, as the study progressed, the researchers measured the participants’ depressive symptoms as well as their neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to change. This is important, says Dr Rosenkranz, as change is needed for the “brain’s learning and adaptation processes”.

The findings at the end of the three weeks were promising, with the researchers concluding that group physical activity helped reduce depressive symptoms in the participants, while also helping to encourage change in the brain. “The more the ability to change increased, the more clearly the clinical symptoms decreased,” said Dr Rosenkranz.

Not only did the movement produce positive results but the role group exercise played within this was significant. In fact, these same changes weren’t witnessed in the other group which didn’t partake in physical movement.

“This shows that physical activity has an effect on symptoms and the brain’s ability to change,” said Dr Rosenkranz. “We cannot say to what extent the change in symptoms and the brain’s ability to change are causally linked based on this data. It is known that physical activity does the brain good, as it, for instance, promotes the formation of neuron connections. This could certainly also play a role here.”

So, if you’re struggling with motivation, grab a buddy and head out for a walk. It doesn’t have to be a complicated workout — a stroll around your neighbourhood with a pal is enough to help you reap some of these rewards.

If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

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