If you’re like most people, you either love working out or hate it (often jumping between the two depending on the day, your mood, and your energy levels). But regardless of how we might feel about it personally, there’s no denying that regular exercise contributes significantly to our overall health. This includes not just our physical health, but our mental health too, and the data backs this.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a component of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, reports that regular exercise produces a variety of emotional, psychological, and social benefits. According to the NIMH, just 30 minutes of walking every day can improve your physical health while also boosting your mood, and reducing mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
This poses an interesting question – is it better to work out alone or with other people? And does it ultimately matter in terms of physical, mental, and emotional benefits? Let’s take a closer look at the effects that working out alone has on your mental health compared to working out in a group or with a friend.
Given that our mental health directly affects how we think, feel, and act, it’s important to dedicate time and focus to improving it, and exercise is an ideal way Let’s look at some existing research to help answer this question. In a study conducted on a group of students examining the relationship between exercise setting and mental health, it was found that the students who did group exercises reported better overall mental health, compared to the students who exercised alone.
The study suggested that one of the possible reasons for this outcome was that the students exercising in groups developed social support networks during group activities. This, of course, is harder to do when working out alone.
Further research does support these findings. In another study, researchers examined the difference in subjective health status between older Japanese citizens who exercised on their own and those who exercised in groups or with another person.
It was found that participants who reported either working out both alone and with others or only working out with others enjoyed better overall health compared to participants who reported only doing solo exercise. Again, this seems to indicate that the social support and interaction received when exercising in a group has a positive impact on mental and behavioral health.
So does this mean that working out alone is less beneficial or effective than working out socially or with someone else? Not at all! It’s important to remember that in both studies, exercise both alone and with others was shown to reduce health problems and improve mental health.
Many people also actively choose to exercise solo, despite what the research above might have you believe.
A survey released by Invisibly found that 73% of people surveyed reported preferring to work out alone. A further 60% reported that walking was their primary method of exercise, as opposed to team sports or group exercises. Only 29% of participants had a gym membership.
It’s not hard to understand why many people prefer solo workouts when you think about it. There are many benefits that come with choosing to exercise by yourself. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of working out alone.
The pros of exercising alone
You’re in control of your schedule
The first (and arguably the best) reason to choose to work out alone is that you have complete control over when, how, and for how long your workouts are. Exercising by yourself takes the hassle out of planning meetups and having to meet pre-arranged fixed commitments, even when the time or location doesn’t suit you on the day.
If you have odd working hours or an inconsistent work schedule, planning your own exercise regime allows for more flexibility and can prevent your workouts from turning into a chore. Plus, you’re less likely to skip a workout because you’re not relying on another person showing up to keep you committed.
There are fewer distractions
While it’s true that exercising with a partner, friend, or in a group is more a sociable experience, it can result in more chatting than actual exercising. Working out alone, on the other hand, leaves you with no distractions and more headspace to focus on what you’re doing in the current moment.
That’s not to say you can’t when exercising with others, but your performance could easily be impacted by mid-workout conversations, interruptions, and other factors that create distractions. Exercising alone, means you’re able to concentrate more on your form, fitness, performance, timing, and other workout metrics, all of which can help you achieve your fitness goals faster.
You have more privacy and freedom of choice
Attending an exercise class or group might mean you have to adhere to certain rules, dress codes, and so on. If you feel somewhat self-conscious in exercise classes or groups or prefer setting your own rules and choosing your own music and attire, it’s better to exercise by yourself. You get to choose the location, whether it’s in your living room, outdoors, or in a park, and can dress comfortably without worrying about your appearance.
You get some much-needed personal time in
Exercise can be a great way to handle stress, especially if you work long hours or in a high-pressure environment. In particular, exercising on your own allows you to decompress and relax without the pressure of socializing (which you might not always feel like doing to unwind).
It also allows you to spend some quality time with yourself. It can free up your thoughts, clear your mind, and help you recharge your “social batteries” in an active, healthy way.
Our mental health isn’t just determined by whether or not we work out with other people, the type of exercise we do, or the frequency at which we do it. Another equally important factor in whether or not exercise benefits our mental health is our motivation for exercising.
According to self-determination theory, our personal experiences, along with social and cultural factors, influence our motivations for choosing to participate in certain physical activities, like exercising.
The theory suggests that a person is more likely to experience positive mental health benefits from working out if the environment gives them a greater feeling of choice and control. A greater sense of agency and control can increase a person’s enjoyment of an activity and, as a result, they want to do it more, making them more successful and increasing the mental health benefits of the activity. This is called “autonomous motivation”.
If an environment doesn’t create this sense of agency and control or creates a negative experience, the opposite can happen. If someone participates in any workout because they feel pressured or coerced, whether it’s fear of punishment, failure, or a lack of attention, this is known as “controlled motivation”. It generally diminishes the enjoyment and satisfaction they derive from the activity, minimizing any positive mental health benefits.
Although there is evidence supporting positive mental health benefits from exercising with others, there are also plenty of good reasons to exercise by yourself. Whether you decide to work out alone or with other people depends entirely on you, your fitness goals, your motivations for exercising, and your lifestyle.
There are positives and negatives for both decisions, so it really boils down to your unique preferences. So whether you exercise solo, with a group or club, or even with a personal trainer, as long as you’re getting a sense of satisfaction from it, you’ve made the right choice!
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