I have been teaching fitness for the last 17 years. Of course there have been marvelous ‘before’ and ‘after’ photo ops even after the first month of regular exercise for most women. Then there has been the weighing scale that is feared and hated all at once, that spells doom for some and sends some into throes of ecstasy. It’s just a number; still, women are highly influenced by it.
There is however another more lasting and I think highly under-recognized benefit of fitness. Many people (not all, but many), enjoy being a part of a fitness group or organization that gives them a social outlet and connects them to other people. The gym becomes the new social hangout place to meet people at the happy hour and make friends. It is also a place one is likely to meet ‘like-minded’ people. The like-mindedness being, the common goal to better health/wellness.
Many friendships have been born in the gym! People, who start of with just chatting with each other when they happen to meet at the gym, go on to catch a coffee together afterwards. Some then move on to being real friends.
Many of these relationships may never have happened had it not been for their chance meetings through fitness. There are several advantages to these friendships. The first of course is that you get to make friends! In todays highly virtual world, real connections appear to be quite a challenge. But given that group sessions happen in actual groups of human beings, the chances of truly meeting other people in the real world are higher.
Working out together enhances a bond as you sweat and exercise to better health. The endorphin high may have something to do with being more congenial and open to friendships in the fitness environment. Friendships are after all the chain links between people.
Once connections are made then sustaining exercise with an exercise partner or group is that much more plausible. It has been found that having an exercise partner is more likely to ensure that you persist with it. This then goes beyond just friendships and happy feelings. It cultivates the habit of regular exercise.
When you have a friend or many friends that you workout with, you tend to push beyond what you would probably do on your own. The next person’s success or dedication motivates you to do better. It averts boredom and monotony when you know there are others in the same boat, so to speak.
Regular exercise often (not always, but often) also translates into a healthier lifestyle. As you know, the one-hour of exercise will not mitigate the other 23 hours if they are utilized irresponsibly. Eating healthy, moving a lot, not smoking, minimizing alcohol, managing stress and getting enough sleep are as important as that holy hour in the gym. All of this becomes more attainable when you surround yourself with like-minded people. It’s not necessarily true that your gym buddies also share your social life, but chances are, you will stay connected, and together, remind each other of healthier choices, share healthy recipes, provide solutions for setbacks, encourage each other on a bad day and so on. Research has shown that the people you cultivate are the likely ones whose lifestyles you will imitate. A 2011 study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise found that the exercise habits of people you know have a positive influence on your own exercise habits. So for instance, having someone join you on an early morning run would mean that you feel obliged to sleep early, wake up early and get moving to uphold the bargain.
You could either partner up with one or two specific people to workout or be part of a group that acts as a support system. We are all social animals so having a social connection, even while working out can be of great benefit.
If you do choose to partner up remember
- The person does not need to be your best friend but you do need to ‘like’ him/her.
- Your fitness levels and health parameters should not be overly mismatched as then you may be held back instead of moving forward.
- You need to feel accountable to and responsible for your partner encouraging and committing to the process.
- Provide positive reinforcement whenever possible and see that both of you progress. Sometimes having a partner can be a deterrent if one or the other is lazy and holds the other back.
If you choose to join a group remember-
- The fitness activity done as the group has to be in sync with your requirement. Many group activities are generic and may not entirely suit your fitness needs.
- The leader of the group, usually the instructor, needs to be highly empathetic and extremely qualified to take the entire group together forward while avoiding injury given the different levels of fitness of the people involved.
- You may need to do some solo activities to fill in the gaps in your fitness. The group activity for instance may not include strength training. You may then be required to do that separately.
Finding the right partner or group can be of great benefit to sustain and even enjoy exercise. The support system, accountability and healthy competition and inspiration provided usually acts to cheer you on, especially on days when you want to play truant.
Dr. Sheela Nambiar MD, Obgyn
Fitness & Lifestyle Consultant
Author – GET SIZE WISE, GAIN TO LOSE.