Social engagement of exercise

It’s less about the exercise and more about the group – Mental and Social engagement of exercise

Using exercise with the sole purpose of improving quality of life through social engagement is proving to have a tremendous effect on the mental health of participants. While exercise and group classes can be targeted and tailored to a pathology a non-specific exercise social group activity can still help with individual outcomes.

I’d encourage everyone, whatever their ability or health status, to find people to exercise with or find a local class or gym which offers exercise with an emphasis on social well-being.

There is definitely a space for group exercise interventions for mental health outcomes. In this scenario inclusion is important, perhaps more important than all other criteria; most people will have niggles or an old injury which can rear its head from time to time, this is not cause for exclusion.

A social exercise group class may not immediately ease your arthritis or make your shoulder range amazing but if you have a good time doing it, you’ll feel better.

Feeling better has the flow on effect of moving better through confidence and self-worth. This leads down the positive path of active self-management, wanting to engage in physical activity and building your intrinsic motivation.

Seeing exercise and physical activity as a positive thing is such a big win, it will set you up for success in any physical undertaking. It will change your mindset to continually seek to win more, to improve more and to put value yourself!

Considering starting a social group is great and here’s a few tips on where to begin:

  • The capability level of each individual will vary. Each person will have their strengths so it is important that people can feel they can work as hard as they need to. A group circuit where everyone can feel like they’ve achieved while being encouraged is a successful class. It’s important that the exercise selection can be made harder or easier so that everyone can be included. Group circuits are great as everyone can work out in a similar are and having a variety of exercises that can be progressed or regressed based on the individual.
  • Don’t be too outcome focused, with less pressure and expectation there is room for a group class to shape and suit the need organically with time. If something didn’t work well, then you can change it for next time, if something was really fun then make sure you include it. Remove the expectation and pressure surrounding gym stereotypes watch people grow.
  • Keep it simple, if you try a fancy exercise that you saw on You Tube which requires expensive equipment then you’ll start losing people. Movement should be kept simple and ideally be exercises which people have already practiced. A simple way is to have three exercises for upper body strength, middle body strength (or core) and lower body strength and complete 30 seconds of each for a set number of rounds.

For example:

  • Upper – Push ups, bench dips and shoulder press
  • Middle – Seated med ball twist, swiss ball sit ups and laying knees to chest raises
  • Lower – Bench squats, hops onto a step and glute bridges
  • Choose something other than running, if you’re a social runner, the chances are you’ve already found a social running group (like Saturday parkruns) and there are plenty of ways to improve and enjoy your running. For variety and for social benefits try different types of circuit style work outs. Running is a quick way for many people to fall out of love with the idea of exercise.
  • Catch up afterwards for coffee, part of the reason why social groups can be successful is the promise of good coffee and conversation immediately after. It can also be a reason to offset your meal choice or improve your metabolism for the day!


You don’t need to be at everyone’s level to enjoy each other’s company or to exercise together. When we’re happier we are more confident, productive and engaging.

Every week the Mates4Mates physical rehab team is helping veterans improve their health physical and mental health through group exercise training. Regular weekly sessions are run for veterans with a very wide variety of conditions ranging from shoulder, knees, back, ankle surgeries to anxiety, depression and PTSD.

While exercises are being modified for safety and individual capability, each member is being encouraged to engage and improve in a social and encouraging environment. If you’d like to help wounded, injured or ill Australian Defence Force members, and their families, in their physical recovery please donate via


Nolan Woo – Accredited Exercise Physiologist – Physical Rehabilitation Team – Mates4Mates