In areas of the world referred to as the “blue zones,” where more people live to 100 years and beyond than anywhere else, fitness is built into the very framework of life and often done in groups. For example, in Okinawa, Japan, many people stay active by practicing group martial arts or tai chi, not to mention that they farm as a community and walk frequently with friends to do errands in their community by foot.
This may be a far cry from the way that most Americans work out today, but it doesn’t have to be. In order for fitness to be enjoyable and sustainable long term, many of us need to lean on those around us to keep us motivated and accountable.
Research suggests there are loads of health benefits associated with group fitness and working out with others—and these go beyond just building a stronger body. For example, one 2017 cohort study sought to examine whether the benefits of regular exercise differ whether people work out alone and/or with others. “Systematic reviews focusing on the psychosocial benefits of exercising with others have revealed that working out with others may enhance social connectedness, social support and peer bonding,” says researchers behind the study.
Another study found that among older adults, regular group workouts improved quality of life and made a significant impact on both mental health and social health markers, even when the frequency of group workouts was just two to three times per week. As made apparent by those living in the blue zones, finding ways to incorporate social fitness into life as you age has huge payoffs. Studies show that over one year, engaging in group fitness improves balance, muscle strength, reaction time, physical functioning and health status, and it also helps prevents falls.
Here are ways you can build a circle of support around you in order to keep moving forward toward your fitness-related goals.
Explore what your community has to offer
The great thing about taking advantage of things like local walking or bike trails, public parks, outdoor tracks, free fitness classes or community gardens in your neighborhood is that they are convenient, fun, often free and an easy way to sneak in more movement. Grab a calendar of local events, rally up a friend or neighbor and try something new, perhaps seasonally, that gets you outdoors and moving.
Join a gym or fitness studio
For many people, signing up for a gym, bicycling club, CrossFit group, dance class or yoga studio not only makes working out a more enjoyable, constant presence in their lives but also allows them to join a community of like-minded people. There’s a certain positive energy about a busy gym or fitness facility that is hard to replicate when you’re working out on your own.
Sign up for a team sport
For some, team sports are the answer to frequent fitness, such as joining a “weekend warrior” club, training for a marathon with local friends or meeting up for a weekly basketball game with a group of regulars. If you’re a student, an easy way to stay active is to gather your roommates or classmates to participate in group fitness classes, which has been shown to help decrease perceived stress among college students while increasing physical, mental and emotional well-being.
Pick more active vacations
While sitting on the beach or poolside can be great for your mind and stress levels, try to mix things up while vacationing and find activities that keep you moving. For example, embark on a yearly yoga retreat, explore a new city by foot, go snorkeling or kayaking with your family, take a morning walk on the beach, seek out a nearby hike or take an interesting fitness class at a local spot. Of course, it also helps to make sure that the hotel you stay at has a good fitness facility or is close to destinations that you can walk to, which makes squeezing in a workout with a family member or travel buddy much easier.
Rally up your co-workers
When traveling for business or even as part of your weekly schedule, see whether you can find ways to make group fitness a part of your job. Consider doing “walking meetings” rather than sitting to talk at a desk. Doing something active and fun with co-workers—such as walking workouts during lunch, team sports or a lunchtime yoga class—is a great way to bond as a team, get to know each other on a different level and look forward to spending more time together.
Build morning exercise into your schedule
If you’re short on time in the morning, have a long commute or you’re a parent with lots of obligations, then morning workouts may seem impossible. However, if you plan in advance and delegate tasks to your spouse or another family member, you may be able to regularly make it work.
Morning exercisers typically miss far fewer workouts compared to evening folks, because by the end of the day, life often gets in the way. If possible, consider commuting to work by bike or foot (even part of the way), get to work early to use the company gym, or simply go for a morning walk or run around your neighborhood with a family member, neighbor or even your dog.
Surround yourself with positive, motivating people
Perhaps above all else, emphasize spending time with people who have an uplifting, positive attitude and motivate you to keep getting better. Our diet and fitness habits often reflect those of the people we spend the most time with—so you have the best chance of staying active and healthy into older age if those around you prioritize this as much as you do.
Finding ways to work out with people you care about is truly a win-win, since studies show that people who work out are usually happier overall, deal with less, suffer from less symptoms of depression and are better able to cope with anxiety.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He operates the No. 1 natural health website in the world at DrAxe.com, with more than 15 million unique visitors every month, and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health company that provides history’s healthiest whole-food nutrients to the modern world. He’s author of the books “Eat Dirt,” “Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine” and the just released “Keto Diet: Your 30-Day Plan to Lose Weight, Balance Hormones, Boost Brain Health, and Reverse Disease.”
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