Use the power of the group and music to meet your goals.

As much as exercise is individual, humans thrive in groups. Working out with friends, or even in the company of others, pushes your boundaries. This isn’t mere speculation. Research published earlier this year in Nature Communications verifies this phenomenon.

MIT Sloan School of Management’s Sinan Aral and Christos Nicolaides wanted to know if tracking devices and online platforms, in which people are remotely connected rather than sweating side by side, impacted their workouts. Turns out it does.

Aral and Nicolaides amassed five years of data from over a million runners, accounting for roughly 225 million miles. They assessed individual runners, then compared them to friends they were connected with via their tracking device. Amazingly, similar training patterns emerged even when runners were separated, as runners could simply gravitate toward other runners on the same ability levels. They even accounted for weather patterns.

Inclement weather didn’t matter; friends did. The threat of lagging behind their friends forced them to clock in that extra mile, rain, snow or sunshine. The power of the group pushed them harder.

Making it a game

Competition can be quite healthy, as the above study shows. A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine verifies this: Families that use fitness trackers increase their daily steps by nearly one mile every day, achieving their fitness goals 27 percent more often than families that do not.

Two hundred adults from 94 families were placed into two groups, one with trackers, the other without. The “gameified” group clocked an additional 1,700 steps above their baseline every day. The incentive of seeing a brother or aunt beating them pushed them harder.

While competition can turn ugly, games are part of our social identity. Research from the University of York shows that New Caledonia crows and kea parrots learn new skills from play in a similar manner as babies and young children. Researchers gave the birds various objects to achieve a reward; time and again, by playing with their tools in front of them, they figured out how to translate playful activities into usable knowledge.

This is a particularly important message during a time when The New York Times reports that American teenagers are suffering from more anxiety than ever before. Even simple games like trying to beat out granny’s steps alleviates stress through movement, while simultaneously strengthening social bonds. One can easily argue that play is a much healthier approach to life than being tense about the world around you. It is a skillful mind that can navigate the environment playfully.

The power of the group

This month’s playlist features music by great groups. It begins and ends on chill notes, but the middle section features a variety of songs great for working out.

The set kicks off with producers who translate their studio sound with full live bands. Bonobo is British musician Simon Green, now based in Los Angeles; Tycho is Bay Area composer Scott Hansen. Both create lush, beat-driven and orchestral soundscapes. I’ve watched Bonobo perform with an eleven-piece band twice this year, and both times stood in awe, transfixed by the textures.

The playlist then drops into reggae with one of the greatest live bands ever, Bob Marley & The Wailers. We then pivot into Afrobeat with the legendary Fela Kuti, followed by his son, Seun, who plays with his late father’s band. Antibalas is the Brooklyn ensemble most responsible for reincarnating Afrobeat in the nineties. Their new album showcases everything this incredible seventeen-piece band is about.

In America we often think of rock when considering “groups,” and so the fusion of three bands—Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill—into Prophets of Rage was a no-brainer. I had to honor two greats we lost this year: Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Tom Petty. Finally, if you’ve never seen the documentary film, “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” the background of the Rolling Stones’ classic, “Gimme Shelter,” is one of the greatest stories in rock history.

We segue to chill with Melbourne’s Hiatus Kaiyote, which plays a gorgeous mix of soul, R&B and hip-hop, this song featuring another legend, Q-Tip. The set closes on a jazz tip, with one of the greatest quartets in history, led by John Coltrane, leading into a newer name on the scene, Kamasi Washington. Make no mistake: Washington has the potential to influence the genre as much as Trane did.

Enjoy the playlist, especially with friends. Everything in life is better with others.

Why you should use cooperation—not competition—to your advantage.

Photo credit: Antonio_Diaz, Thinkstock