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Join the community: can group exercise improve your mental wellbeing?

Research shows people who exercise in groups are less likely to suffer from mental health conditions

It’s been well documented that exercise is great for your health, but could who you’re exercising with also have an impact? New data from the Medibank Better Health Index suggests exercising in groups — as opposed to alone or not at all — may offer mental health benefits.

While all kinds of exercise have been shown to improve mental wellbeing, the data shows the prevalence of anxiety, depression and stress may be lower amongst those engaging in group exercise, such as team sports.

MORE: Learn about the state of mental health in Australia

Exercise for better mental health

Whether it’s in a group or on your own, we know that in addition to the many physical benefits of exercise, getting active can also help boost your mood, clear the mind, and sharpen your learning and judgement skills. What’s more, it could also help reduce symptoms of stress, and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety for people with the conditions.

So what’s the added benefit of group exercise? According to research from the Black Dog Institute, when exercise is done with others it can provide a means of social support and reduce feelings of loneliness.

Loneliness and social isolation have been linked to various physical and mental health issues, including headaches, tiredness, problems with sleep, lack of motivation, depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

MORE: How physical activity and social connections benefit your health

Medibank Clinical Director Dr Sue Abhary, adds that group exercise can provide an opportunity to meet and connect with other like-minded people.

“These findings are indicative only, and more research needs to be done to fully understand whether group exercise offers superior mental health benefits. However, we are increasingly understanding how important community connectedness is in maintaining a healthy mental state, which may go some way in explaining these statistics.”

MORE: Are you more at risk of loneliness? Find out here

Are certain types of group exercise better than others?

When it comes to types of exercise, anything that gets your body moving is a good start. If you’re new to exercise, you can start small with something that interests you. Group exercise and team sports such as netball or basketball, and free walking or running events such as parkrun are all fantastic ways to get fit and stay connected.

MORE: Stay active with these exercise tips and guides

Interested in group exercise? Join a Free + Active event near you

Under our new Free + Active program, Medibank will launch hundreds of free, community-based exercise events and wellness initiatives nationwide over the next five years. Find a free event near you.

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