Restore & Reconnect in our Wellbeing Classes
Jen Wood, our wellbeing expert at Restoration Yard, talks about the importance of social connection through exercise in keeping our minds healthy as well as our bodies
We’re forever being reminded that exercise is great for our health and wellbeing. Apart from the obvious benefits of getting fit and toning up, it lowers blood pressure, improves glycaemic control, helps us sleep better and is great for our mental health. One of the less talked about benefits is the social connection we get through exercise.
Lockdown has been hard on us in so many ways. Social isolation, combined with poorer food choices, increased consumption of alcohol and reduced fitness due to more sedentary lifestyles has meant weight gain and loss of muscle tone for many of us. We were not designed for a sedentary and socially isolated life. We are meant to be active. Then there’s the mental health risks. The other, perhaps less seen pandemic.
Just as we were born to move, we have also evolved to be part of a group or community. Connection is one of our basic human needs. Science has shown us that our need to connect is as strong as our need for food and water. Connecting with others and with nature also has massive benefits. Our bodies release oxytocin – the love molecule – which can help us to feel relaxed, happy and give us that warm fuzzy feeling. It can even significantly increase our longevity. What’s not to love!
Group classes offer the combined benefits of exercise and valuable social interaction. For regular attenders this can offer a real sense of community and can be a lifeline for anyone struggling with mental health.
Just what are the rewards of social connection through exercise on your mental health? Well, there are so many. Here are Jen's top wellbeing gains on joining a class, indoors or out.
Making Friends and building our Social Engagement system
When we attend wellbeing classes or exercise in a group, we meet people with a shared interest. When we feel safe, we are usually operating through our Social Engagement System. We have two recognised branches of our autonomic nervous system – the sympathetic or active part and the parasympathetic or resting part. In Polyvagal Theory, Stephen Porges proposes a third part – the Social Engagement System. This third system helps us to connect and navigate relationships from a place of safety. Group exercise encourages us to move into our social engagement system, thus allowing us to become more present and embodied.
Motivation and Fun
It’s so much easier to commit to regular exercise when we do it with others. Also, there is a recognised effect where we feel motivated to work harder when there are others in the group. We are also more likely to keep going until the end of the class. The energy of the group is more than the energy of the individual. This can be extremely motivating.
The shared joke or laughter can make all the difference when the going gets tough. Also, the social aspect of a class can be a huge boost when we are still slowly emerging from many months of reduced social interaction. Laughter is so healing.
If you sign up for a class, you are statistically more likely to show up than if you just promised yourself an early morning run. Even better if you arrange to do a class with friends, or if you have a fitness goal to aim for.
If we can see others in the class who are fitter or more toned, this can give us something to aspire to. Even visualising ourselves as being better can benefit us as the mind can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what we vividly imagine.
Reduces stress and increases quality of life
By exercising in a group or class, we can reduce our stress levels by up to 26% and significantly increase quality of life, in comparison to exercising alone, scientists found. This is in part due to the community aspect, and mutual encouragement. So, suffice to say, social connection through exercise is good for so many reasons. Come along and try it out at the Wellbeing Lab.
Jen Wood is a coach, psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher with 20 years experience. She is also our Wellbeing Consultant at Dalkeith Country Park. Jen offers individual wellbeing coaching, therapy and mindfulness sessions via Zoom or by phone.
For more information about Jen, visit her website at jenwoodwellbeing.com.