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Why A Gym Partner is Good for the Body and Mind

Do you ever find it tough to motivate yourself to lace up those sneakers and hit the gym or the trail for a run?  Does it make it easier when you have a friend pushing you to join them?  I know for me, if the weather isn’t perfect, there’s no way I’m leaving my room unless someone else is already dressed and ready to go.  Exercising with others may be more beneficial than just helping you get off the couch, with even stronger effects as we age.

Research has shown that exercise improves not only physical wellbeing but also cognitive functioning in older adults.  Social engagement has also been linked to enhanced mental performance for this population.  The next obvious step with these findings is to see whether combining the two into a single event would produce equivalent, if not stronger, effects on cognition.

A study by Williams and Lord (1997) did just that.  94 healthy older women (aged 60+) participated in a 12-month group exercise program, with hour long classes comprised of aerobic and stretching exercises.  The participants completed physiological, cognitive, and mood tests before and after the exercise program, and a group of 93 controls completed the tests only.  Results show that the exercise group performed significantly better on all three test types than the control group.  Specifically, significant improvements in memory span, muscle strength, reaction time, and anxiety level were recorded for the exercisers only.  Overall, the researchers found that older women who participated in a group exercise program for a year benefitted both physically and mentally.

These findings further validate the importance of fitness classes, especially those geared towards older adults, in gyms and community centers.  They provide an opportunity for older adults to engage with each other while staying physically active – benefitting both the mind and body!


Williams, P. & Lord, S. R. (1997). Effects of group exercise on cognitive functioning and mood in older women. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 21, 45-52.

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  1. March 20th, 2014 at 13:22 | #1

    This was certainly an interesting topic. However, the post left me with a lot of unanswered questions. You began by comparing exercise and social engagement’s positive cognitive effects in later life, but when describing the experiment you dropped that comparison. I would beg the question: what did the “healthy older women” do before the experiment? I mean, if this is more exercise than they have engaged in previously then how could you say that the results are a result of the combination of social and exercise, and not just from the exercise alone. I feel that some variables need to be isolated better. Maybe do another group who has to do a solo-exercise program (without the social element). Either way, I was left a bit confused.
    Another interesting direction to go in with this experiment could be to examine what benefits the attention required to participate in a group class has. In a group class it would seem to me that it could be the cognitive activity of intently listening for the next instruction having a positive effect on older adults. We know that Alzheimer’s is largely associated with a deficit in attention, so might it be that this focused activity could help stave off those effects?

  2. March 16th, 2014 at 19:24 | #2

    I really liked the ideas behind this post. I had never really thought about how exercise classes could be any more beneficial than working out individually. When I think about working out I think of an individual thing, but I can see how working out with another person would be good for people because of how they are engaging in conversations as well as engaging their bodies. Also working out with another person makes the workouts go by quicker and makes them more fun. That allows people to work out even longer because they are not thinking about how hard the work out is. It is a good distraction to have a friend with you. I am curious if they might try to do a study with younger people and see if it makes as significant of a difference with them working out in a group as it did for the older women. I also wonder if men would get the same results, because women are usually more social I think and care more about having someone with them to talk to.

  3. December 3rd, 2013 at 22:51 | #3

    There are some fun parallels between this article and Greek Philosophy. Bear with me for a second. In Ancient Athenian culture, it was widely believed that the education necessary for a young individual to reach their fullest potential revolved around the learning of two founding principles: mousike and gymnastike. While mousike roughly embodies what we now refer to as the liberal arts, gymnastike refers to activities that occur in a gymnasium. These activities were almost exclusively group exercise of some form. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates describes in overwhelming detail what his ideal system of education would be, and he explains that the real benefits of gymnastike is that it develops the mind in addition to the body. Essentially, Socrates holds that there are certain virtues or characteristics that can only be learned through exercise.

    Granted, Socrates is talking about young people and his ideas of how to practice gymnastike likely involved nude wrestling, but I think that his points are very applicable to this article. Group aerobics classes could absolutely be categorized under the label of gymnastike, and Socrates’s ideas that athletics are essential to developing mentally and becoming a complete person are echoed in the mental benefits acquired by old ladies who completed a 12 month exercise program.

  4. December 3rd, 2013 at 20:27 | #4

    This was indeed an interesting post. It caught my attention because all the sports I have played so far in my life, my coaches have always stressed about how we should get into pairs and come up with a work out schedule when we are off-season. This also justifies the rationale on having physical education classes in schools. But, what do you think about doing yoga instead? Do you think that might actually give a better result? It makes me wonder how teams working out together, and communities like cross fit would fare in these tests too. However, my one question is that – what about individuals who uses their work-outs as a getaway and introverts who might like to be left alone when they work out?

  5. December 2nd, 2013 at 22:58 | #5

    I really enjoyed reading this article! As others said, I found it to be incredibly relatable! I always find that exercising in groups makes me work harder and feel better about myself. Not only that, but having a push from my friends can make the difference between working out for a half hour versus an hour. I’d love to know more about how they tested the different aspects of the experiment (memory span, muscle strength, reaction time, and anxiety level). I would also be really interested to see how men differ from women in this scenario! I would predict that women would be more positively affected by working in groups than men because we tend to focus more openly on body image.

  6. December 2nd, 2013 at 15:49 | #6

    Very interesting! I love the opening paragraph. It really draws the reader in and makes it relatable to a huge mass of people. I know from experience I have a much easier time going out and exercising when I am on a team or have a friend to meet. I was wondering if the people in the group affect the benefits gained from excising with others. Do people receive more, less, or different benefits when they are excising with their sport’s team (a group of people all working toward a common goal), with strangers, or with close friends? I also wonder about the gender differences. This study only focused on women but would the study yield similar results if the participants were men, or if 50% of the participants were men and the other 50% were women? I also would be curious to see if people’s body confidence would factor into the results of this study. Would people who are confident in their body and ability to exercise benefit more from people who are insecure?
    I think you did a very good job in presenting the experiment. It was just as captivating and interesting to reading in the opening paragraph as if was in the other three paragraphs.

  7. December 2nd, 2013 at 14:23 | #7

    Great topic choice! Something that is definitely relatable to all of us. For me, I definitely am more motivated when I go to the gym with a friend than by myself. When working out with a friend or personal trainer, I always feel myself being pushed and getting a better workout because someone is there watching. In addition, it is very interesting that this tested cognitive performance. I find that I can better focus and be more efficient when doing homework if I have worked out earlier that day. The questions proposed in the previous comments are all very applicable. One question that I think would be interesting to examine is if people have been working out by themselves their whole lives, would switching to working out in a group benefit their physical and mental performance? Also, it would be interesting to see how physical and mental performance would be affected depending on who is in the workout group. For example, if you are in a group with your friends, if the majority of the group is younger than you, if the people in the group were professional athletes at some point, if you are in a group of extroverts or introverts, if you are in a group with people from the same profession, etc. By changing around group dynamics, it would be interesting to see if having different people working out with you would affect your performance.

  8. December 1st, 2013 at 21:16 | #8

    I found this article to be very relatable for me personally, as I am often more motivated to go to the gym with others than by myself! I’d be interested to see just how much the participants improved from their baseline in the 12 months. I think personal preference also has to be accounted for, because people prefer many different kinds of physical activities that vary from activities such as yoga to more intense conditioning classes. I also wonder how differently this affects men and women of a younger age, since women age 60 and above were the only ones tested in this study. The point Kaitlyn brought up about whether participants consider themselves and introvert or extrovert is very valid, in that if a person considers themself an introvert, going to a class with a lot of people they don’t know may overwhelm them and have negative affects.

  9. December 1st, 2013 at 15:48 | #9

    I really enjoyed reading this blog post! The first paragraph captured my attention as it was very relatable. Going to the gym is a struggle that many people face on a daily basis! I liked how this study combined both physical exercise and social engagement to study their benefits in relation to cognitive functioning. However, I want to learn more about the specific “benefits” associated with physical exercise and social engagements. I understand the researcher mentioned “improvements in memory span, muscle strength, reaction time, and anxiety” as certain benefits. But, how were these measured? How did the participants specifically benefit cognitively? Additionally, how can you quantify the extent of the experimental groups’ benefits? It would interesting to see whether these benefits be able to extend to younger people? I also agree with you that it would be useful to see how and to what extent introverts and extroverts benefit from social engagement.

  10. Kaitlyn O’Connell
    November 30th, 2013 at 17:05 | #10

    Interesting article that combines two of the large concepts we have talked about in class! Two of the main concerns we have talked about in regards to social engagement and exercise are the extent to which an individual can exercise because of pain or ability at an old age, but also whether the person is an introvert or extrovert. The extent to which the person considers themselves an introvert or extrovert can seriously impact how much the social engagement piece would affect the results of this study. I think it is definitely important to include on the demographic sheet or somewhere in the study a section which makes the participant indicate which they consider themselves and to what degree. I also think for this specific study it is important to establish a baseline for the participants. I wonder how much the experimental group changed from start to finish of the experiment in each of the tests. For those adults unable to participate in the normal group exercise activities due to physical inability, I think it would be interesting to conduct a study with an exercise group that tends to their needs (whether it be pool workouts since they are easier on the older adults’ bodies or something else that is similar) and to see if they still benefited as significantly from the group exercise.

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