5 reasons why group exercise is getting the nation active

From EMD UK the national governing body for group exercise

Guest Blog - EMD UK

We’ve been chatting to our friends at EMD UK, the governing body for group exercise.  We’re a massive supporter of group exercise and the benefits it brings our customers, but don’t just take our word for it.  Here’s their expect opinion on how group exercise is getting the nation active.

Let’s face it – group exercise sometimes gets a bad rap.  Often overlooked as the uncool cousin of the gym and fraught with stereotypes of Lycra clad women, group exercise hasn’t always been given the recognition it deserves.

Research conducted in 2018[1] found that nearly five million people are doing group exercise every week – that’s one million more than 2016. Not only that, there are a plethora of annual awards championing the work of group exercise instructors, such as the IFS Awards and the National Community Fitness Awards. So, people are raving about group exercise, but why?

Here’s just five reasons why group exercise appeals across the nation:

1. There is something to suit everyone

This sounds like a cliché but it’s 100% true. Group exercise has nearly 400 different concepts to choose from, making it incredibly versatile. Not into yoga? Try dance fitness. Not into HIIT? Try group cycling. Although there is no one size fits all class, there is something for everyone and it’s that variety that makes group exercise an exciting activity to try. With so many styles to choose from, you won’t be getting bored any time soon. The top five styles of group exercise in the UK are:

  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Indoor group cycling (including Spinning® and RPM)
  • Circuits
  • Zumba®
2. It's getting people fitter

The wide range of group exercise formats means that there is a correspondingly impressive range of physical fitness benefits depending on the classes undertaken. In addition, class duration and frequency help many participants reach the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week[2]. Regular group exercise class goers can expect to see fat loss, lower blood pressure, increased lean muscle mass and increased bone density to name a few.

There has been a plethora of studies conducted on group exercise but to save you the reading time, we’ve picked out two of our favourites:

  • In 2015 the American Journal of Health Behaviour published a study by the University of Georgia that found women with type 2 diabetes doing dance fitness classes three times a week lost an average of 2.5 pounds in weight and lowered body fat percentage by 1%.
  • Closer to home in 2015, the University of Kingston carried out an intensive study into the health-related effects of Zumba® fitness and found that “Large magnitude enhancements were observed in the health-related quality of life factors of physical functioning, general health, energy/fatigue and emotional well-being. When interpreted in a community-based physical activity and psychosocial health promotion context, our data suggest that Zumba® fitness is indeed an efficacious health-enhancing activity for adults.”
3. It has positive impacts on mental health

We all know that doing exercise releases chemicals that make us feel happier. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference and that regardless of age or fitness level, exercise is a powerful tool for people to feel better. The social aspect of group exercise is a massive plus in terms of mental health, providing a support structure and feeling of belonging that can aid many conditions;

  • A study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association in 2017 found that working out in a group setting lowers stress by an average of 26% compared to those who exercise alone. Overall, participation in group fitness classes led to a decrease in perceived stress and an increase in physical, mental, and emotional quality of life compared with participation in exercise individually or not participating in regular exercise.
  • A study conducted in America between 2011 and 2015 looked at the association between physical exercise and mental health in 1. 2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015. Published in The Lancet, the researchers found that mindful exercises such as yoga and tai chi were associated with lower mental health burden than walking or other exercises.
4. It helps to tackle loneliness and isolation

Loneliness and isolation are problems that are sweeping the nation and are not restricted to the elderly. Figures published in April from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed that more than 5% of adults in England felt lonely “often” or “always” between 2016 and 2017 (that’s one in every 20 adults), with 16% enduring feelings of loneliness sometimes, and 24% occasionally.

Group exercise classes are more than just loud music, fast movements, and shouts of encouragement from an instructor at the front of a class. They also offer fantastic social inclusion opportunities, health benefits, and psychological support – all of which are imperative for combatting the feelings and consequences of loneliness. The group setting really helps people develop a sense of community. Participants truly feel like they are a part of something by being surrounded by like-minded, encouraging people, many of whom have will have similar ambitions and reasons for joining as their own. Research from 2016 found that nearly 90% of class goers agreed that group exercise classes were a great place to make new friends.

5. The instructors are more than just people with head mics

In 2018, research found that the instructor was the second biggest motivator on people attending classes. Group exercise instructors can make or break a class experience. They carry a great deal of responsibility in every class making sure everyone feels welcome, gets the form right, doesn’t hurt themselves, is on hand to give advice and more. What you don’t see in your 45-minute / one-hour class is the hours that go into learning (and sometimes devising) the choreography of your favourite class. If that instructor is teaching three, four, or maybe even more different concepts, that’s a whole lot of hours preparation. The work they do in getting people active is invaluable.

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[1] EMD UK National Survey 2018
[2] UK Chief Medical Officers' Physical Activity Guidelines 2019