The Key To Exercise More: A Supportive Training Buddy

Research is increasingly demonstrating the power of social interaction in influencing human behaviour. This is because the way we act is strongly affected by our colleagues, friends and family. “Behavioural research shows that we’re all heavily influenced by the behaviours and characteristics of the company we keep – for example, you may eat less when surrounded by thinner people – and it seems that the same applies to physical activity and exercise,” says Head of Vitality Wellness, Dr Craig Nossel.

“Two of the biggest drawbacks to starting and maintaining an exercise regime are motivation and staying power,” he explains, “but the solution may be as simple as finding an exercise partner.”

In 2016, researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that enlisting a new exercise companion increases the amount of exercise people do and the frequency at which they do it.

Encouragement is more motivating than practical support

Interestingly, participants exercised better when their companions provided them with emotional support – more so than when their companions provided ‘instrumental’ support, like pitching up for every workout session.

Dr Pamela Rackow from the Institute of Applied Health Sciences explains: “Once we found that having a new exercise companion increases exercise frequency, we wanted to find out what quality of support has this effect. Our results showed that the emotional social support from the new sports companion was the most effective. Thus, it is more important to encourage each other than do the actual activity together.”

How does this work?

“Humans are social creatures, and training together taps into our human desire for approval,” adds Nossel. “Along with increased accountability, exercising with others offers a greater sense of connection and satisfaction.”

Recent studies also show that exercising in a group improves quality of life and reduces stress far more than when you do so alone, and that, compared to other forms of exercise, participating in team sports has the biggest positive impact on mental health.

Getting fit with others is nothing new, says Mari Leach, Discovery Vitality Biokineticist. “In recent years there’s been an enormous amount of local and international interest in working out together, with increasing numbers participating in spinning, Cross-Fit, Zumba, boot camp and other fitness classes, as well as weekly parkruns.”

“What’s increasingly emerging are the benefits of exercising together instead of working out on your own,” she continues. “In terms of commitment, intensity and duration, research demonstrates that having people around you helps you to stay focused, achieve your goals and up your game.”

Inviting friends to get active can help us to exercise more

Discovery Vitality has been putting these learnings into practice with the recent launch of their 10-week Vitality Open campaign, which invites all South Africans to experience their Vitality Active Rewards programme. Members on the programme have been shown to increase their frequency of physical activity by 24%, and, when exercising, tend to exercise at a higher intensity.

In an effort to urge South Africans to move more and drive better, the Vitality Open offers participants compelling incentives to achieve exercise and drive goals. When you achieve a goal, you get a play on a gameboard, which can earn you beverages, meals and online shopping rewards at a range of reward partners. You can also use plays to gain a chance at winning prizes – like running shoes, flights and the latest iPhone – for life.

To encourage participants to make the most of the social aspect of exercising, anyone who invites 5 friends to join Vitality Active Rewards with them this week can earn a bonus play. South Africans over the age of 18 can join the Vitality Open for free by downloading the latest version of the Discovery app. Simply scan this QR code to get started.

Over 5 million deaths could be avoided annually if everyone exercised regularly

The more friends and family each person can motivate to get active, the better, given that insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide.

Globally, 1 in 4 adults are not active enough.

According to Discovery’s The Road to a Healthier South Africa 2018 report, around half of South African adults live sedentary lifestyles. This is more than double the global average of 23% – making us one of the most inactive countries in the world, below Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Malaysia.

“Multiple studies highlight that insufficient physical activity is a key risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), with cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes; and this is hugely problematic” says Dr David Jankelow, cardiologist and President-elect of the South African Heart Association.

“In addition to being important in disease prevention, movement is also key to healing. Years ago, cardiac patients were kept immobile for an extended period, but today we know that getting these patients active is probably the most important thing we can do. The same goes for ICU patients.”

A ‘real-time and effective weapon against poor health’

Dinesh Govender, Chief Executive Officer at Discovery Vitality, adds: “Discovery’s core purpose is to make people healthier, and to enhance and protect their lives. Vitality supports this by encouraging and rewarding healthier behaviour – and Vitality Active Rewards is our most personalised, real-time and effective weapon against poor health.”

“We’re excited about the launch of the Vitality Open because of its potential to impact the lives of individuals, along with their families and communities – with knock-on benefits for society as a whole,” Nossel concludes. “Our hope is that South Africans seize the chance to experience how compelling incentives and the social aspect of exercising can be – and to for all this to fuel the start or the sustainment of healthier habits for life.”

Want to know more?

Click on the link to discover how to practice healthy eating in the workplace.