Three’s a crowd? Why getting active with a friend is better for you
Two heads are better than one has been famously quoted for centuries and – in most cases – it is still relevant today. Here are a few benefits of social exercise
So, it should come as no surprise that we benefit from the company of others when we are exercising.
Research by Kean University found that those who lead more sedentary lifestyles benefit from being around those who exercise more regularly, as they felt encouraged to exercise.
But as well as being a motivating factor, social support has been described as a “key ingredient” in any successful fitness programme, especially for those with serious mental illness as it helps sustain participation.
5 benefits of social exercise
However, it's not just good for upping intensity and spurring each other on. Here are some of the other key benefits to exercising with a buddy.
You could learn something new
Exercising with a friend is what Vitality partner Puregym calls a ‘shortcut to success’.
What the health club means by this is that you are more likely to pick up exercise tips and gain experience by working out with a friend.
More likely to show up
“You’re way less likely to skip a session if you know a friend is waiting for you,” says Vitality’s Head of Exercise & Physical Activity, Jonny Kibble.
Not wanting to let your partner or exercise buddy down, will make you more inclined to show up and on the days you’re feeling like you don’t want to exercise, a pep talk from a friend could be the encouragement you need to show up.
He says: “Make sure they know what you’re looking to achieve and how often you want to train.”
It’s good for your relationship
Heard of the expression ‘couples who gym together, stay together’? It’s more than a phrase coined by buff Instagrammers, there’s actually science behind it.
Psychology Today reported that couples who had jointly participated in exercise felt more satisfied with their relationship and more in love with their partner.
Up the pump
Quoting research, Puregym cited that when exercising with a friend, gym goers were likely to spend six minutes longer working out than on a solo trip.
This, the group said, could burn up to 40 extra calories per session, if calorie deficit is one of your fitness goals.
Find your tribe
It’s human nature to search for belonging, and so we gravitate to people that are like us, and that also translates into finding people to exercise with.
Finding your tribe can make your workout session more enjoyable than a solo session as you are able to have more fun with the people you work out with.
“As humans we’re designed to be in tribes so this can really help boost all facets exercise helps us with,” adds Kibble.
But as with most things, there is a balance to be had.
Taking your best friend to the gym for their unwavering moral support, or your young niece for her unfiltered honesty, might seem like a good idea, but it’s possible they won’t be the best choice of gym buddy.
It’s important to be selective about the person you choose to sweat, swim or go running with.
“You want to make sure that your friend is of a similar fitness level (or proficiency at the exercise) to you,” explains Kibble.
“Otherwise, you could get slightly disheartened and they may not feel pushed enough.”
He adds: “You also want to make sure the friend is as motivated as you are, otherwise they could end up bringing you down if you’re someone who’s easily influenced.”
Being the perfect workout buddy
So, what is the best way to go about it and what does it take to become the perfect workout pal?
While there’s no definitive right number of friends to exercise with, Kibble recommends at least one so you can discuss progress and get tips on how to improve.
“Then having more people around can be great to boost motivation and make you feel part of something,” he notes.
Speaking of progress, Kibble also says you and your workout gang should set parameters and stick to them.
“That way you’re open and both know what each other’s expectations are.”
While there is an element of providing motivation, you should have an open conversation with your workout pal about whether you want to be pushed to do more, or not.
“Listen to what your friend’s needs are and be prepared to exercise along when they are ill, not up to it, or injured,” explains Kibble.
As we already mentioned, social support helps to sustain participation and comes with mental health benefits.
But it can be hard opening the first line of communication with a friend to entice them into exercise, if you think it would be good for their mental health.
Of course, this is a delicate situation to handle, and ultimately it is down to the person to decide whether or not they want to take part in exercise.
There are, however, other ways to dial up this conversation with friends that are struggling with their mental wellbeing. For example, by turning it into a social activity.
Rather than your normal coffee or drinks catch-up, you could suggest booking a yoga or Pilates class, go to your local parkrun - or a grab a coffee and go for a gentle stroll in the park.
And going for a walk should not be overlooked, says Vitality Coach and mental health expert Silvia Cordoba Quintero.
“If running isn’t your thing, if yoga isn’t your thing, if lifting isn’t your thing, start by walking,” she says.
“Start from a place that feels achievable to you. For your mental health, a 30-minute walk a day can do wonders.”
This can be broken up throughout the day, she notes, into more manageable chunks for your fitness level and lifestyle.
Refer a Friend to Vitality and you’ll both get a £100 gift card. We’ll send it once they’ve kept a health or life insurance plan with us for three months.
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