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Is group exercise better than working out alone?

A study involving American medical students has found that those who engage in group exercise such as gym classes reduce stress and improve their quality of life more than those who run or lift weights alone.

The University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine investigated the effects of group fitness classes on the stress and quality of life of medical students in 2016.

The 12-week study conducted in 2016 consisted of three groups: 

The Fitness Class Group: 25 students participated in 30-minute Les Mills CXWORX group fitness classes, at least one class per week. 

The Health-Enhancement Group: 29 students exercised alone or with up to two additional partners regularly. These activities included running, weight lifting and cycling. 

The Sedentary Group: This group of 15 students did not engage in regular exercise over the 12-week period. 

Participants completed surveys to assess their perception of stress once every four weeks. They also rated their physical, mental and emotional quality of life (QOL) on a scale of 0 (as bad as it can be) to 10 (as goo as it can be). 

Participants also completed the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), a 10-minute survey in which answers are on a 0-to-4-point scale based on experiencing a given situation. The items are scored and summed for a possible maximum total of 40 points; the higher the score, the greater the stress. 

"At baseline, no significant differences existed between any of the experimental groups for PPS, physical QOL, or mental QOL," the authors of the report noted. 

"Emotional QOL was significantly lower in the fitness class group than the health-enhancement or control groups at baseline."

By week 12, the fitness class group showed decreased PPS and increased physical, mental and emotional QOL. The health-enhancement and control groups showed no statistically significant changes between baseline and week 12 for ant of the PPS or QOL metrics, with the exception of mental QOL, which showed an improvement in the health-enhancement group.

"Participation in regular group fitness classes led to a statistically significant decrease in perceived stress and an increase in physical, mental, and emotional QOL compared with exercising regularly on one's own or not engaging in regular exercise," the authors conlcluded. 

"Attending weekly group fitness classes could be a solution to improving the emotional well-being and stress level of medical students."

However, they noted that the findings should not be interpreted as a condemnation of individual exercise. 

"We believe much benefit can be derived from physical exercise of any kind, but the addition of group fitness classes in a medical student population may have additional benefits. 

"Engaging in social fitness activities could be a solution to improving the well-being of medical students and physicians."

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