Group exercise is great for our physical and mental wellbeing at any time of year – but in winter, it becomes even more important that we take extra care of both our bodies and our minds.

Exercise in winter for physical and mental wellebing

It’s cold outside, it’s dark, and, despite the festive cheer, many people’s moods will have begun to turn grey the moment the first winter clouds started to cluster and thicken overhead.

Nearly all of us are affected by the change in the seasons. But when the nights draw in and the biting-cold air stings our faces the moment we set foot outside, a feeling of sorrow and cheerlessness can very quickly set in. We can feel ourselves drawn to sleep longer, eat more and be less sociable and less active.

The winter blues – or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – is a form of depression that people experience at particular times of the year or during a particular season (usually winter). It is a recognised mental health disorder that affects around 2 million people in the UK. Although we all may lose something of the spring in our step when there’s ice on the pavements, for those that experience SAD, the change in the seasons has an even more profound effect on mood and energy levels which can lead to symptoms of depression that may have a severe impact on everyday life.

Group exercise can help everyone feel better during the long winter months. Indeed, both NHS Choices and the mental health charity Mind recommend regular exercise and physical activity to combat the winter blues – group exercise is one of the best, most accessible and fun ways to bring more than a little sunshine back into your life at the coldest time of year.

Group Exercise as a Treatment for Depression

It’s well-documented that regular exercise can combat depression. In fact, studies show that exercising is an even more effective treatment than taking medication – exercising three times a week can reduce the risk of depression by up to 20%.

Most recently, an Australian study – ‘Exercise and the Prevention of Depression’, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry – followed some 33,908 healthy adults without symptoms of anxiety or depression for eleven years, asking them about their exercise habits. It was found that those who didn’t exercise at the study’s start were 44% more likely to become depressed, compared to those who exercised for at least one to two hours a week.

In all, the study concluded that if everyone engaged in just one hour a week of physical activity, 12% of depression cases could be prevented.

Here’s a short video from Time Health illustrating the findings of the study.

Exercise is great at treating depression – and even mitigating the likelihood of developing depression in the future – because it improves your energy levels, aids sleep and digestion, releases feel-good endorphins (natural brain chemicals that enhance your sense of wellbeing), and helps you take your mind off your worries.

When you partake in group exercise in particular, there are many additional psychological and emotional benefits that can be enjoyed, too – exactly what we all need in these long winter months.

For starters, joining a group exercise class is a great way to meet new friends. The social aspect of group exercise makes for some real great fun to be had, gives people motivation and the encouragement from others makes it really easy to start making group exercise a regular part of your lifestyle.

What’s more, joining in with group exercise classes is a great way to gain confidence in yourself. Meeting fitness and exercise goals – even small ones, such as committing to just one hour of group exercise a week – can provide a real boost to your self-confidence. Doing something positive in order to help manage feelings of depression or anxiety is a healthy coping strategy. Joining a group exercise class this winter will give you a reason to get out and enjoy some laughs, good music and of course a good workout with your new friends.

Let’s not forget – at this time of year, group exercise is one sure fire way to keep warm!

Workplace Health – Group Exercise Programmes for a Healthier and Happier Workforce

As the national governing body (NGB) for group exercise, EMD UK is committed to our vision to realise a healthier nation through greater participation in group exercise at all times of year.

Winter is a particularly difficult time to find the motivation to join in – but perhaps your employer could help you.

We’ve teamed up with mental health charity Mind to create our Workplace Health initiative. The workplace is a great place for people to start joining in with group exercise and begin focusing on both their physical and mental wellbeing – even now in winter. Delivered in either four-, eight-, or twelve-week blocks, the programmes – which currently include Broga and Boxercise – provide employees with regular exercise and mental wellbeing sessions.

These are fun workouts which aim to increase awareness and understanding of mental health. Post-programme, workplaces are encouraged to continue and all employees are given access to Mind resources to help their mental well-being during everyday office life.

It’s important that we take our mental wellbeing as seriously as we do our physical health. Group exercise is a great way to take care of both.

Check out our recent post from Rabble guest blogger and former international triathlete Charlotte Roach, and discover ‘Five Forms of Exercise for Your Mental Health’.

If you’d like to learn more about Workplace Health, what group exercise classes are available in your area, or would like to discuss more about how exercise impacts mental wellbeing, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with EMD UK today