A white paper by EMD UK, the national governing body for group exercise

What is the white paper?

On Thursday 9th May, EMD UK, the national governing body for group exercise, released their white paper at the Elevate conference 2019. The white paper entitled Sweating Your Assets: The value of group exercise highlights the growth of group exercise and how the exercise discipline can and has got inactive people into regular physical activity.

Sweating Your Assets, the first white paper to be released by EMD UK, showcases the work group exercise has done in creating a healthier nation through exercise, but notes that the activity is widely undervalued as a gateway to activity, not just by the public but also by the fitness industry.

What are the individual benefits of group exercise?

Group exercise, or group fitness classes as they are also known, are a familiar sight in gyms, leisure centres, studios, and village and community halls. Currently 4.86 million people take part every week and this number is growing rapidly with over one million more weekly participants since 2016 . With a range of classes to choose from, such as Zumba®, Clubbercise® and boot camps, group exercise provides an accessible activity for those looking to start a regular exercise routine outside of the gym; one reason why it has featured heavily in Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign.

Group exercise has a variety of benefits to class goers, including:

  • Improved physical health, including improved cardiovascular performance, stronger muscles and body-fat reduction
  • Decreased risk of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes
  • Increased sense of self-esteem and better mental health
  • the opportunity to socialise and meet new people

All of these are explained in further detail in the report.

What are the benefits of group exercise to society?

Due to the widely accessible nature of group exercise, the activity is a gateway to regular physical activity. In 2017, a study by the British Heart Foundation found that more than 20 million people in the UK were physically inactive. With inactivity thought to be more deadly than smoking, more needs to be done to get people healthier. Group exercise has been proven as a gateway to physical activity. In fact, 29% of current group exercise participants were inactive before starting in classes and 55% of those had been inactive for three years or longer.

There has been widespread coverage about the UK’s current loneliness epidemic and it’s not just the elderly who are prone to feelings of isolation or being alone.

Figures published in April from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed that more than 5% of adults in England felt lonely “often” or “always” between 2016 and 2017 (that’s one in every 20 adults), with 16% enduring feelings of loneliness sometimes, and 24% occasionally. Group exercise classes are more than just loud music, fast movements, and shouts of encouragement from an instructor at the front of a class. They also offer fantastic social inclusion opportunities, health benefits, and psychological support – all of which are imperative for combatting the feelings and consequences of loneliness.

The group setting really helps people develop a sense of community. Participants truly feel like they are a part of something by being surrounded by like-minded, encouraging people, many of whom have will have similar ambitions and reasons for joining as their own.

Group exercise can act as a vehicle for reducing social care costs by getting swaths of the public active. EMD UK are working with campaigns like Moving Medicine to signpost patients to group exercise as a form of social prescribing. A healthier nation through exercise in turn reduces the strain on the NHS and social care providers.

What can we do to raise the profile of group exercise?

Investment in the group exercise and its workforce is key to promoting positive activity changes in society. EMD UK have identified that the group exercise workforce has also been undervalued. Instructors are the second biggest influencer on group exercise attendance and the face of the activity. Despite their work in helping people to get active, many instructors have not had a pay rise in over 10 years. Investing in instructor pay, continued professional development and understanding the value group exercise brings to their business are ways that health club operators can raise the profile of group exercise for the good of the nation.