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Experts say people need socialization and that’s why exercising with friends can help motivate you. Maki Nakamura/Getty Images
  • Researchers say exercising with other active people can help motivate you.
  • They say fitness activities with friends makes exercising more enjoyable and also adds an accountability factor.
  • Experts recommend exercising with someone near your fitness level so your partner doesn’t slow you down or discourage you.

It may be obvious to some, but exercising with a friend is more motivating than going solo, according to new research published today.

And the evidence isn’t just anecdotal.

There’s actually a newly developed mathematical model incorporating the influence of social interactions on community exercise trends.

It suggests interacting with moderately active people can influence sedentary people to become more active.

The research was developed by a team led by Ensela Mema, PhD, an assistant professor at Kean University in New Jersey.

According to the researchers, the 2018U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines recommending the types and amounts of physical activity haven’t inspired much improvement in daily exercise routines.

So, Mema and colleagues looked at previous research showing social interactions with peers can play a key role in boosting physical activity within a community. They developed a mathematical model simulating how social interactions can affect a population’s exercise trends over time.

Using data from the U.S. Military Academy, the simulations showed populations with decreasing physical activity and sedentary behavior were most common in the absence of social interactions.

However, when simulations included social interactions between sedentary and moderately active people, they became more physically active in the long term. In simulations where moderately active people became more sedentary over time, overall physical activity trends plummeted.

“We have traditionally directed physical activity interventions by engaging sedentary individuals to become more active,” the researchers said in a statement. “Our model suggests that focusing on the moderately active population to sustain their activity and increasing their interactions with sedentary people could stimulate higher levels of overall physical activity in the population.”

Though the simulations weren’t validated with real-world data, the researchers said they still provide new insights that could inform public health efforts.

They recommend social activities designed to boost interactions between sedentary and moderately active people.

Experts say there’s not only an increased level of enjoyment with group exercise, there’s also accountability, making it more likely people show up and get results.

“Depending on the individual’s personality, expectations, experience, and motivation, everyone can respond differently and uniquely to a more social exercise environment,” said Ryan Glatt, a personal trainer and brain health coach for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.

“Whereas some individuals may feel competitive, that sense of competition can be both friendly and playful or aggressive and serious,” Glatt told Healthline. “Conversely, others can compare themselves to others, which can either lower or increase confidence depending on the context.

“Some individuals are more internally accountable, where they will never miss a commitment they make to themselves, and others are more externally accountable, where they are more likely to exercise when they have an external accountability system,” he added.

Noah Neiman, the co-founder of Rumble Boxing in New York City, told Healthline that humans are a communal species, so getting better results by exercising with others just makes sense.

He said communal exercise is a “breeding ground for the elevated effort that’s truly necessary to make a lasting positive impact on your mind and body.”

“We survive and thrive in packs,” Neiman said. “Numerous studies show that having a strong peer group has noticeable effects on our physical health and psychology. It’s important to exercise and it’s important to get your social time in. Those two don’t necessarily have to go hand in hand. I wanted to create Rumble (Boxing) because I wanted to combine those two very important elements.”

Matthew Stultz, PhD, an exercise physiologist at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, told Healthline there’s a long history of evidence showing the benefits of group exercise.

“Experiments back to 1898 Travis Triplett (at Indiana University) demonstrate that working out with someone can help you to work harder (and) go faster, which is called ‘social facilitation,’ Stultz told Healthline. “In this case, two people running with each other push each other along to run at a faster pace.”

But Stultz cautioned the opposite can happen as well.

“You can feel compelled to slow down if your partner is in worse condition and this is probably why some people feel compelled to work out alone. They don’t want to be impeded by someone else’s lack of effort or inability to ‘keep up,’” Stultz explained. “I suggest that you work out with someone similar to you and with similar goals, fitness level, and drive, or be willing to step up to that level soon.”

Stultz also said employing personal trainers is often the result of wanting to interact and be motivated by someone else.

“Some people prefer to workout side-by-side with others and need the social interaction and accountability; that’s why personal trainers exist, that, and the expertise (and) guidance,” Stultz told Healthline. “Many others just need to be in the same vicinity of other people working out, and not working out with them, per se.”

Danielle Cote, the director of training operations for national chain Pure Barre, told Healthline it’s important to balance your approach to group exercise.

“Some people find success in scheduling their workouts and treating them like they are mandatory meetings that cannot be rescheduled,” Cote said. “It can be easy to move yourself down the priority list, especially as the day goes on. Find a time that works best for you and schedule, whether it is the same time each day you are working out, or it needs to shift based off other obligations and commitments.”

Cote added it’s important to celebrate progress rather than letting any comparative shortcomings affect your motivation.

“Remember to give yourself grace,” Cote said. “Outside of your workouts there’s a lot of demands you’re met with on a day-to-day basis and lifestyle factors are a big part of this as well. Oftentimes, individuals may focus on what type of progress they’ve made, when there are so many components to consider.”