Jockology: Group exercise gives you extra endorphins

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This week’s Jockology column takes a closer look at the idea that group exercise offers some benefits that solo sessions don’t.

The question

Will taking a class or finding training partners help me keep my exercise resolutions this year?

The answer

Consider the similarities between a modern exercise class and an ancient religious rite – the wise leader guiding the group through a series of ritualized movements, in perfect synchronization. If you’re struggling to keep faith with your fitness goals, this apparent coincidence might offer a solution.

New research suggests that group exercise unleashes a flood of chemicals in the brain, triggering the same responses that have made collective activities from dancing and laughter to religion itself such enduring aspects of human culture. For some (but not all) people, finding workout buddies could help turn fitness into a pleasant addiction. [read on…]

Obviously people have a lot of different reasons for working out in groups — or for working out on their own, for that matter. But I found the study of Oxford rowers described in the article to be one of the most interesting studies of 2009. In the running community, there’s a lot of debate about why so many athletes stop competing seriously after they finish university. Again, there are clearly many different reasons — but I’ve heard a lot of runners say that the training experience just isn’t the same once they’re no longer part of a group working out together and sharing common goals. Maybe this is really just a form of endorphin withdrawal!

2 Replies to “Jockology: Group exercise gives you extra endorphins”

  1. It seems that pretty much anything we do as humans, we do better in groups. Prime example is school. Yeah, we COULD learn everything we know through independent study, but we the group/schhool pushes us, motivates and enables us to do better. I would say this is a general human trait. From sports, to school, support groups or even family life.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Selam. One of the things I found interesting about the Oxford study is that (like you) they drew connections to all sorts of human activities. They write: “This heightened effect from synchronized activity may explain the sense of euphoria experienced during other social activities (such as
    laughter, music-making and dancing) that are involved in social bonding in humans and possibly other vertebrates.” In other words, we have a deep evolutionary reason to perform better in groups, and our brains use pleasure chemicals to encourage us to work together.

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