Why exercising with peers has multiple health benefits

Older adults are more likely to stick with fitness activities if they exercise with people their own age, according to a 2018 University of British Columbia study. Researchers found that doing physical activity with one’s own age group fosters a sense of belonging and points to the power of social connections.

Age counts more than gender as a motivator. Seniors who participated in group exercise classes for six months at Vancouver YMCA locations with men and women of similar age went to even more classes than participants similar in age and the same gender. Both groups, however, went to more classes than those in mixed-age, mixed-gender groups.

In fact, the fitness classes with peers were so popular that the participants successfully persuaded the YMCA to continue the age-specific sessions, so they wouldn’t have to change to the regular, mixed-age classes.

Winning combo for healthy aging

Working out with peers offers the best of both worlds for healthy aging, as it combines the proven health benefits of social participation with regular physical activity. Ongoing social participation reduces the risk of premature death, disability and depression, and contributes to better cognitive health and healthy behaviours, according to Statistics Canada.

These encouraging findings are supported by many research studies. For example, the rate of cognitive decline is 70% lower in older adults who are frequently socially active compared to those who are not socially engaged, reports the University of Manitoba Centre on Aging. People with a high level of social activity are also about twice as likely to remain free of a disability involving activities of daily living than a person with a low level of social activity, according to the Journal of Gerontology.

Active time, social time

In the UBC study, participants often socialized over coffee after class, which made the experience more enjoyable. Making active time a rewarding social time can help motivate you to reap the added health benefits of being physically active. These include improving your balance, preventing falls and injuries, staying independent longer and reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and premature death, says the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Choosing to live in a retirement community makes social and physical activities with peers easy and accessible, and this can be a beneficial choice for a person’s health and wellness. Chartwell Retirement Residences offers group exercise classes, walking clubs, yoga and a wide range of social activities including game nights, book clubs, movies and community outings.