Benefits of exercise classes and groups

A group of women doing yoga on mats.

Regular exercise results in ample physical and mental health benefits. People who struggle with stress, anxiety or depression can benefit from exercise as it helps regulate the emotional state. Group fitness helps motivate people to work harder while lifting your overall mood.

“When a person is feeling depressed, one of the first treatments we recommend is behavioral activation, which means we get them up and participating in their environment in a meaningful way. We do this by focusing on two main categories of activity that we try to get them engaged in,” said Allie Townsend, assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

The two categories of activity include activities of mastery and activities of pleasure. When someone feels depressed, they might isolate themselves and have little motivation for activity. According to Townsend, practicing activities of mastery entails developing skills that foster a sense of accomplishment, such as household chores, practicing an instrument or taking a course on a career-based skill. Activities of pleasure include doing things for the sake of enjoying the activity itself, like exercise. Exercise releases endorphins to elevate your mood, and exercising with a group brings an added benefit of social connectedness that makes you feel good.

Group fitness and exercise classes allow for social accountability where people tend to push themselves more than they probably would while exercising alone. The quantity and intensity level tends to be higher in a group fitness setting over a solo workout. If you take a class with an instructor, you are likely to push yourself harder.

“A lot of people can relate to how intimidating and overwhelming it can be to go to the gym where you’re surrounded by regular gym goers who have exercised there for years,” Townsend said. “A big benefit of group fitness with an instructor is that you don’t need to think about how to do it – you just show up and are guided every step of the way.”

If you are new to fitness, try something that aligns with your interests. If you enjoy dancing, take a Zumba class. If you like to walk and talk, join a walking club.

“Society at large will put pressure on the right and wrong ways to work out, but there is no such thing. It’s just about finding something that feels good to you rather than a punishment – that’s not the goal of group fitness. Try out different activities until you find something that you enjoy and benefits you,” Townsend said.

Learn more about psychiatry and behavioral health services at Baylor Medicine. 

By Homa Warren

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