COMMUNITY FITNESS & ACCOUNTABILITY
Henry Howe Head of Movement and Performance for Magic Mountain App talks all things Community and Fitness
Establishing healthy habits that are new to you is a challenge, and one that many people do not overcome. I think as humans we are quite good at understanding what we want but not so good at developing an environment that will support our goals. Being part of a group of people who share a common goal is one of the most effective tools in your arsenal.
Put simply, when we say we are going to do something we are more likely to follow through on it if there are people around us to hold us accountable.
But there is more to it than simply involving others in your goals. One thing we take for granted when planning exercise is who you intend on doing it with. Whilst I think many people know they’ll be more successful if they have a group of people around them, most of us choose those closest to us or those we naturally spend most of our time with. Think back to the last time you sought to increase your exercise; did you consider the habits of those you spend time with?
A study at Santa Clara University showed that in group environments people “gravitate towards the habits of those around them” — be that exercise, their outlook on life or the restaurants they eat in. Be deliberate about who you choose to spend time with on your fitness journey. This doesn’t mean you need to alienate your friends who are also trying to develop healthy habits but joining a group of people who have pre-existing habits that align with your goals can prime you for success. Perhaps it’s a gym that has a lot of opportunities for you to exercise, or just a walking group who meet regularly enough to help you maintain consistency.
Look for healthy behaviours in those you’ll spend time with to make those habits become your own.
There is more to it than simply good habits of others rubbing off on us though. When your actions form part of a group effort towards a shared goal your motivation rises. This is referred to in behavioural sciences as the “Kohler motivation gain effect”. This theory identifies two key aspects of the group environment that motivates us to be better. The first relates to the fact that the work we do helps others achieve their own goals, this in itself brings satisfaction because people need us back! The second relates to how we measure ourselves against others — nobody wants themselves viewed as contributing less or being incapable of contributing. You might read this as shaming yourself into being fit, but it’s more about being on equal terms with people you admire.
Encouragement can provide you with some external motivation, an invaluable tool embedded into the group environment. When you are trying to make healthy changes in your life it’s important to be fair on yourself — you might be trying to undo a few decades of counter-productive behaviour and it’s easy to fall off the positivity-bandwagon. It’s inevitable that your former habits will creep in, lulling you back into your comfort zone. Exercising within a group breeds camaraderie and your group can be a great source of encouragement to you when you’re struggling, reaffirming the goals you set yourself and why you want to achieve them.
In the age of technology our opportunities to socialise are diminishing at an alarming rate, not only that but the world of social media can be littered with unhealthy distractions. Fitness communities offer us an invaluable opportunity to interact with people with common values as us, helping us to invest our energy in the things we can do to make as big an impact on our health as possible. Communities provide countless social interactions that enable us to listen, support, encourage and feed off one another, a precious tool when we are trying to make meaningful changes to our health and wellness.
As I’ve mentioned though, you do need to be deliberate with who you choose to spend time with — going head-on into an environment that isn’t suitable for you will just deflate you. Group settings are not without their drawbacks and the wrong environment can reinforce isolation rather than encourage integration. Consider your own fitness levels and be mindful that many types of exercise have a minimum level of fitness needed before taking part. CrossFit is a tremendous example of what the body can do but there are probably more accessible places to start! If you’re using general activity such as step count and total calories then it’ll be quite self-limiting, but if your group attends a gym or class then contact the professional who leads the group to assess your suitability.
- Who you spend time with and where you exercise has a huge impact on your success with exercise.
- As humans we tend to mimic the habits of those around us. Look at your friends — do their habits align with your fitness goals?
- Community fitness has a knack of creating accountability, when we commit to be a part of something others expect us to contribute.
- Exercising as part of a group provides some external motivation when you feel like you’re losing your way.
- Consider your fitness level when joining in with a group — consult a professional if you feel unsure of your suitability.