The Benefits of Social Support for Exercise

A plethora of research has highlighted the benefits of exercise and its relationship with an individual’s physical and mental health. Physical changes can include – but are not limited to – regulated blood pressure, skeletal muscle increases, and fat loss. These changes can lower the risk of developing Cardio-metabolic disorders such as CVD, Hypertension, Diabetes, and Cancer. In addition to the noted physical benefits, exercise intervention has been consistently found to be associated with psychological improvements, most notably with improvements seen in mood and managing psychological disturbances such as Depression, Anxiety, and Stress disorders.

Despite the overwhelming physical and psychological benefits that exercise can provide to an individual, more than half (55%) of Australian adults do not meet the recommended physical activity guidelines. This physical inactivity creates a huge financial burden on the economy, estimated at around $15 billion dollars annually and accounting for approximately 6,400 deaths per year. The answer to why such a large number of individuals aren’t meeting physical activity guidelines remains largely unknown; however, it is thought that an individual’s decision to engage in an active lifestyle may be dependent on a combination of social, cultural, emotional, and socioeconomic factors.

A number of psychological factors are thought to influence an individual’s motivation towards an active lifestyle, including enjoyment, self-efficacy, social support, and group physical activity. Research has consistently found that group exercise programs result in increased exercise adherence over individual exercise programs, due to the reported increase in enjoyment levels, increased social support, and social bonding. In addition to increased adherence, social support can enhance the outcomes seen in weight loss, positive health behaviours, and stress-reducing benefits that are gained from an individual undertaking a physical activity program. While there is limited evidence around social support enhancing exercise performance, Davis et al (2015) found that group exercise leads to a psychosocial environment whereby exercise ability is enhanced.

So, what are some ways to get involved with socially supported exercise to assist in improving your physical and psychological wellbeing?

  • Reaching out to a family member or friend to engage in physical activity with you. This could be going for a walk around the neighbourhood, completing a workout in the local park or attending a local gym class.
  • Recruiting friends or colleagues to play community sport.
  • For individuals with co-morbid conditions, there may be government funded or subsidised programs in your local area that are accessible. This will additionally allow you to engage with individuals who are living similar experiences to yourself.
  • For individuals with concerns or limitations around face-to-face group exercise programs, a potential avenue to consider is virtual exercise classes.
Davis, A., Taylor, J., & Cohen, E. (2015). Social Bonds and Exercise: Evidence for a Reciprocal Relationship. PLOS ONE
Insufficient physical activity , Insufficient physical activity – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021).
Plante. (2010). Effects of Perceived Fitness Level of Exercise Partner on Intensity of Exertion. Journal Of Social Sciences
Plante, T., Gores, C., Brecht, C., Carrow, J., Imbs, A., & Willemsen, E. (2007). Does exercise environment enhance the psychological benefits of exercise for women. International Journal Of Stress Management

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