Group Therapy as a Prescription for Health

group exercise

Would it surprise you to learn that exercising in a group setting can lower participant stress levels by an average of 26 percent, compared to those who exercise on their own? New research conducted on medical students at the University of New England College Of Osteopathic Medicine supports the finding that group settings for exercise are better when it comes to the psychological and emotional aspects of working out — an unassuming benefit of exercise.

A small group of medical students known for experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety and a self-reported low quality of life were asked to join a 12-week exercise program either in a group setting or on their own.

Students rated their levels of stress and quality of life across three categories: physical, mental and emotional. While those who exercised on their own spent more time working out on average, they reported no significant change in stress levels and only a minimal improvement (11 percent) in mental quality of life, as compared to their group exercise counterparts. Those students who chose to work out in a group reported a 12.6 percent increase in mental health, a 24.8 percent increase in physical health and a 26 percent increase in emotional health.

These findings, published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, support what many fitness professionals already know — that working out in a group is extremely beneficial. I would even go as far as suggesting that group exercise be a prescription for health for many more of our members. Not only those who naturally seek out the social camaraderie associated with group fitness, but also those members who are looking for ways to better manage their stress and emotional quality of life.   

As a side note, the author of this study did state “these findings should not be a condemnation of individual exercise” but rather “as an addition to one’s exercise regime as a solution to improving the well-being” of exercisers.


Mo Hagan is vice president of program innovation for GoodLife Fitness and canfitpro.

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