Could a gym class really be the secret to happiness?

Ever struggled to workout at home but it’s a breeze in a gym class? There are scientific reasons why synchronised movement feels so good – and they’re fascinating. 

You’re not imagining it: lifting weights in a gym class really is easier than pumping iron at home – and science backs it up. If you’ve ever toiled away on a static bike on your own, only to find that a spin session with your mates leaves you exhilarated and wired, you’ll know what we’re talking about.

From boosting social connections to blocking pain perception, synchronised movement has a whole range of benefits, both mental and physical.

“Any type of physical activity will make you feel good and release endorphins,” explains David Weiner, trainer and nutrition specialist at lifestyle and fitness app, Freeletics. “However, synchronised movement and working out as part of a group, team or community can offer additional benefits.”

So, what is it about a group workout that feels so much better than working out alone, and why? 

What is synchronised movement?

“Synchronised movement is when similar movements are performed by two or more people at the same time,” explains personal trainer Beth Davies. Usually, you’ll be following along with a teacher – think line dancing, synchronised swimming, or any kind of fitness class where you’re carrying out the same moves at the same time as other class members.”

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What are the benefits of synchronised movement?

“Synchronised movement has so many benefits,” says Weiner. “It can help ease insecurity and make you feel empowered to learn a new skill, exercise or discipline, along with easing anxiety and improving the social and community elements that fitness can offer.”

It makes us happier

“Studies have reported a link between synchronising movement and self-esteem,” says chartered psychologist Catherine Hallissey. “In addition, when you synchronise movement, it increases how much you like the other person, leading to feelings of wellbeing and contentment.”

“Group workouts offer many advantages and allow you to feed off the mood of others, which can lead to the release of endorphins outside of physical exertion,” agrees Weiner. “Even simply smiling for example has been shown to increase endorphin levels,” he says, and if you’ve ever tried a group dance class, chances are you smiled a lot, giving a gorgeous double-whammy of endorphin highs.

It improves relationships

Interestingly, humans are inclined to spontaneously synchronise our movements (think walking in step with a friend) and studies show that this increases social bonding.

“Synchronised movement has many social benefits,” explains Davies. “Moving in harmony with a group of people has positive effects on cooperation, helpfulness, trust, closeness and empathy – it’s really incredible.”

“Coming together in a synchronised way helps build a sense of belonging,” agrees Hallissey. “This is especially true when engaging in synchronised movement where each person is part of the whole, all contributing in their own unique way to create something bigger than themselves.”

All of this combines to cultivate a lovely feeling of inclusiveness, unity and working together towards a common goal, which has proven mental health benefits, as anyone who has ever got chatting at a local Parkrun can testify.

Running with others builds self-esteem and increases happiness

It helps us work harder

“Working out as part of a group can boost your commitment to a fitness routine and help you to stay consistent and motivated,” says Weiner. “Having others around you can also help to keep you accountable, which over time will ensure you’re progressing, getting fitter and more able.”

And if you’ve got a competitive streak, that’s even better. “If you’re competitive then working out in a group can lead to healthy competition, seeing what others are capable of and consequently inspiring you to do more,” says Weiner. “It may also push you to work harder to avoid being the weakest link in the group.”

It makes the workout less likely to hurt

There is also evidence that synchronised movement makes us less likely to notice pain, meaning we really can work out harder without feeling like we need to stop.

“There are studies to show that synchronous behaviours like movement could trigger the endorphin systems in addition to the exercise itself,” explains Weiner. “In one study, athletes were invited to train on rowing machines independently and then work out in synchrony. After the exercise, researchers measured how much pain each of the rowers could feel, and found that athletes who exercised in sync with others were much more resistant to pain.” 

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It boosts motivation

Working out in a group is hugely motivating, with participants likely to feel energised and enthusiastic. “Positive vibes through exercise are infectious and can help to lift you up and help you work harder,” agrees Weiner.

In addition, group workouts often involve an element of music, which can work to boost energy, or alternatively, in classes such as restorative yoga, reduce stress.

It makes us kinder

Research shows that working out or moving as part of a group can increase generosity, trust and tolerance toward others. 

Other experiments have found that in synchronised activities like dancing, synchrony boosts endorphin effects far more than doing your own thing or moving separately. This has an impact on our emotional reactions, with studies finding those who move in sync feel closer to others both during and after a group activity. 

So there you have it – if you’re after a mood boost as well as a workout, meet up with some mates at the gym. 

Images: Getty

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