There’s a reason why some people will pay as much as $3,000 a month for SoulCycle: It improves their physical health and their mental health.
A new study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association shows that people who participate in group exercise classes (like Zumba and barre) showed “significant” improvement in mental, physical and emotional health over those who worked out alone.
"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, DO, 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 recruited 69 highly-stressed medical students who self reported a low quality of life. The researchers then asked a group of students to self-select into a 12-week workout plan, either in a group functional fitness class (CXWORX) or individually (cardio or weightlifting). Another group of students didn’t exercise over those same 12 weeks, other than walking or biking for transportation purposes.
The students check in at four week intervals and rated their mental, physical and emotional stress. After 12 weeks, the medical students in the group fitness classes showed dramatic improvements with a 26.2 percent reduction in stress, along with improved mental health (12.6 percent increase), physical (24.8 percent) and emotional (26 percent).
The students who worked out individually didn’t report a reduction in stress or an improved quality of life. It’s not all bad, though: They did report an 11 percent improvement in mental health.
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How exercise benefits your mental health
Exercise improves mental health by releasing feel-good endorphins, the chemical that makes you feel happy and euphoric. It doesn’t take a lot of exercise to get the benefits, either: a 30-minute workout a few times a week can boost your mood — as well as antidepressant medication for some people.
And, of course, there are very real physical health benefits to working out.
However, exercise isn’t a replacement for proper treatment for serious depression or other mental health disorders, so in those cases any exercise should be monitored by a doctor.
There isn’t one right way to work out, so get out there and find something you love, no matter if it’s running a trail or pumping iron in a group class. Just make sure you don’t overdo it right away because it can cause more health problems than it helps.