During the experiment, 69 medical students were split into three groups with different exercise remits.
Participants either took part in a regular 30-minute group CXWORX (core strength) class, exercised alone or with a maximum of two people (doing exercise of their choice, such as running or lifting weights), or did not engage in regular exercise.
The researchers said there was “no significant” change in stress levels when looking at the physical type of exercise undertaken, such as running or weightlifting.
However, those involved in group sessions reported experiencing the highest levels of stress relief.
Participants answered a questionnaire designed to highlight their levels of stress, physical and mental health before and after the study.
At the end of the 12-week trial, the researchers concluded: “Participation in regular group fitness classes led to a statistically significant decrease in perceived stress and an increase in physical, mental, and emotional QOL [quality of life] compared with exercising regularly on one’s own or not engaging in regular exercise.”
They added that the “possibility that the social aspects of group exercise improved QOL and decreased stress…cannot be discounted”.
“The social component of group exercise is therapeutic,” they said.
“Furthermore, group exercise classes often use up-tempo music and choreography to make the class more fun and engaging.”
The study, published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, does have some pitfalls.
The researchers noted limitations to the study due to the fact that the sample size was fairly small and students self-selected which group to be part of.
However, the research has been released on the same day as a survey by England Athletics’ RunTogether community, which appears to mirror its findings.
The latter survey found that a staggering 89% of runners said they had increased happiness as a direct result of running in a group.
One of the RunTogether community members, 42-year-old Amanda Smallwood, said group exercise has had a huge impact on her overall quality of life.
“After a bad day, a good run and chat fixes things – and exercise in general has just made me feel healthier and more positive in life,” she said.
“I feel that I have gained confidence and now believe in myself that anything is possible, you just have to give it a go.”