In a new study which compared the benefits of group exercise to individual exercise, researchers found that those who exercised in a group were able to reduce their stress levels by 26 percent and achieve significant improvements in quality of life, compared to those who worked out alone.
The findings are published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
“The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone,” said Dayna Yorks, D.O., lead researcher on this study. “The findings support the concept of a mental, physical, and emotional approach to health that is necessary for student doctors and physicians.”
For the study, researchers at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine recruited 69 medical students — a group known for high levels of stress and self-reported low quality of life — and allowed them to self-select a 12-week exercise program, either within a group setting or as individuals. A control group abstained from exercise other than walking or biking as a means of transportation.
Every four weeks, the students participated in a survey asking them to rate their levels of perceived stress and quality of life in three categories: mental, physical, and emotional.
At least once a week, students in the group exercise cohort participated in a 30-minute exercise program called CXWORX, a core strengthening and functional fitness training program. At the end of the 12 weeks, their mean monthly survey scores showed significant improvements in all three quality of life measures: mental (12.6 percent), physical (24.8 percent), and emotional (26 percent). They also reported a 26.2 percent reduction in perceived stress levels.
By comparison, students in the solo fitness cohort were allowed to engage in any exercise schedule they preferred, which could include activities like running and weightlifting, but they had to work out alone or with no more than two partners.
On average the solitary exercisers worked out twice as long, and saw no major improvements in any measure, except in mental quality of life (11 percent increase). Similarly, the control group saw no significant changes in quality of life or perceived stress.
“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,” said Yorks. “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.”
Source: American Osteopathic Association