When you least feel like taking a class is probably when you need it the most.
If you're always going lone wolf at the gym, you might want to switch things up. A recent study from the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine found that people who took regular workout classes reported less stress and higher quality of life than those who work out solo. (To be fair, there are both pros and cons to working out alone.)
For the study, researchers split medical students into three groups that each adopted different fitness regimens for 12 weeks. Group one took at least one workout class per week (and could do additional exercise if they wanted). Group two worked out alone or with one or two partners at least twice a week. Group three didn't work out at all. Every four weeks, the students answered survey questions about their stress levels and quality of life.
The results will make you feel way better about splurging on that pack of boutique fitness classes: The group exercisers reported significantly lower stress levels and increased physical, mental, and emotional quality of life, while the non-class exercisers only showed an increase in quality of life. The non-exercise group didn't show a significant change in any of the four measurements.
While, yeah, group exercise had the added benefit of reducing stress, it's important to note that all the exercisers experienced a quality-of-life boost. (Not surprising, considering exercise comes with all of these mental health benefits.)
"The most important thing is to exercise in general," says Mark D. Schuenke, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine and coauthor of the study. "But the social and supportive aspects of group exercise might encourage people to push themselves harder, helping them derive more benefit from exercise." Plus, "the emotional benefit of the support experienced in a group fitness class could carry over throughout the rest of the day." (Seriously. There are huge benefits from doing just one workout.)
It's worth mentioning that the study participants self-selected their groups, which may have had an effect on the results. Plus, the class exercisers reported a lower quality of life at the start of the study, meaning they had more room for improvement. But that insight translates into some practical advice: If you're having a crap day, a group exercise class might be the perfect thing to take your quality of life from bleh to bangin'.
So next time you're tempted to go schlep away on the elliptical or lift weights totally solo, consider signing up for that boxing class instead. And don't feel too guilty about that $35/class charge—there's research backing you up, after all!