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Group ExerciseFor a 2014 study at the University of Saskatchewan, researchers fibbed their way to better performances in a Pilates studio. Here’s how they did it:

The researchers asked 68 people in the studio to hold a plank pose for as long as they could, then told half the volunteers that their plank time was only 80 percent as good their peers of similar age, gender and fitness levels. Having said nothing of the sort to the other half of the room, the entire group was given a second chance to hold their planks to exhaustion. Participants were once again timed, and the results painted an unmistakable picture.

Those who were made to feel they had underperformed the first time actually held their planks an average of 5 percent longer. Those who were told nothing after the first attempt, however, saw their times drop by an average of 18 percent.

What does such a study tell us? While some believe it’s a testament to the power of goal setting, others contend the results show the power social expectations – positive peer pressure, as some might call it – can have on physical fitness and health.

In the world of wellness, it’s not difficult to find examples of people and groups who have tapped into the power social expectation and support can have in reaching our fitness goals. From yoga and spin classes to boot camp and Pilates, working out with a group of like-minded people offers levels of both incentive and accountability that are difficult to achieve on your own.

We all know, of course, about the negative powers of social expectations, which are most often associated with kids’ own developmental years. But researchers have long studied the ways peer pressure can work positively, as well.

Social scientists, for instance, have demonstrated how societal expectations can accomplish all kinds of goals generally considered positive, from raising test scores and inspiring generosity to getting people to use green energy and pay their taxes. The same goes for improving health and wellness.

“The importance of social environmental influences on health-promoting behaviors such as physical activity and healthy eating has been increasingly recognized,” said Kylie Ball of Deakin University Australia, which in a 2010 study found that hanging out with healthy friends can be one of the best ways to stay fit.

The fact is, such issues are general improved when one is made accountable to a group, be it a small exercise or running group or a larger community made up of family, friends and co-workers. Confronting challenges such as working out, losing weight and relieving stress has shown to be easier when levels of compliance and success are transparent to a group of our peers.

Group exercise, for instance, is often used to help people get over “the hump,” whether that hump be setting a new personal best or simply starting an exercise regimen in the first place. Social inclusion is a powerful thing, and joining a group of like-minded people can put you on a path toward your wellness goals.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the exercise groups work because of the following:

Running GroupSocial Benefits: When selecting a particular exercise group, especially one created around an activity about which you feel passionate (e.g., running, cycling, yoga, etc.), you’ll likely have found “your people” – people who have similar passions, lifestyle goals and fitness needs. Such common ground will help keep you coming back.

Motivation: Just as in the Pilates study, simply being around people of higher fitness levels has a natural way of pushing us to improve and, in many cases, perform beyond your perceived limitations. The presence of a fitness instructor or licensed physical therapist helps ensure you approach these limitations in a safe way.

Accountability: There’s nowhere to hide when you’re working out with a group of people. Absences are noticeable, as are lulls in your workout while others are pushing themselves. Even if you join a group with members and leaders who don’t generally “call you out,” the human desire to keep up and rise to expectations will certainly kick in.

Social Support: A study by the University of South Carolina’s School of Public Health showed that using Twitter as a social support system helped people find more success in their journeys toward weight loss. Needless to say, empathetic support from like-mind individuals is motivating and can give you the nudges you need (when necessary) to keep working to get over the hump.

To learn about exercise groups in your community, from running and cycling groups to yoga, Pilates, spin and aerobic classes, contact your local physical therapist. As people who strive to encourage better movement within their communities, physical therapists can offer inside knowledge about specific group exercise options that can best serve your needs and goals.

 

RESOURCES:

Medical News Today: Using Twitter Helps People Lose Weight
Medical News Today: Mathematician Calculates the Influence of Peer Pressure
Medical News Today: Healthy Behavior Through Peer Pressure
Science Daily: Peer Pressure Can Keep You Healthy
NPR: How Peer Pressure May Encourage Tax Delinquents to Pay Up
American Psychological Association: Social Networks Linked to Better Health…
American College of Sports Medicine: Benefits of Group Exercise