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Working out together

Group fitness reaps benefits on all levels, studies show

Created date

March 22nd, 2018
Choreographed to fun, upbeat music, Stretch, Strengthen, and Tone uses props like these small Pilates balls.

Stretch, Strengthen, and Tone uses props like these small Pilates balls.

When Sunny Buchman moved to Lantern Hill, the Erickson Living community in New Providence, N.J., she had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and arthritic joint pain. Now with the gym a big part of her daily routine, she’s feeling the positive effects of a healthy lifestyle.

“My health has improved in dramatic ways since I started working out at Lantern Hill,” Sunny says.

Sunny’s cholesterol went down, her blood pressure stabilized, and her joints no longer ache. She attends nearly all group fitness classes, including line dancing and aqua fitness religiously.

Social fitness

In addition to feeling physically fit, Sunny has made an improvement in her social life. “She thanked me for improving her life by introducing her to so many new friends,” says Fitness Coordinator Melissa Sullivan.

The fun, upbeat group fitness classes act as a social club of sorts and have become so popular that Sullivan has had to add classes to the schedule. “It’s a good problem to have,” Sullivan says.

Throughout classes, Sullivan uses newcomers’ names several times, and during the break, she introduces them to people around the room. “It’s always so rewarding to see them make new friends,” she says.

Sullivan says the benefits of regular exercise go beyond the physical gains of increased cardiovascular endurance, strength, and flexibility, which are all integral to staying fit as we get older. Regular workouts can also reduce the impact of illness and chronic disease.

“People who exercise tend to have improved immune and digestive functioning; better blood pressure and bone density; and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, depression, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers,” Sullivan says.

“The goal of everything I do is to make [residents] feel better, but the social element is just as important,” Sullivan says. “The connection between the mental and the physical is direct. When I look out and see the entire class smiling and laughing, I feel incredible. It’s very rewarding.”

Proof is in the research

Just as Sunny and her neighbors have experienced, group exercise doesn’t only deliver physical benefits. A 2017 study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that participants who were enrolled in a group fitness program demonstrated decreased stress and increased emotional and physical quality of life.

“The possibility that the social aspects of group exercise improved [quality of life] and decreased stress also cannot be discounted,” the authors of the study wrote. “The social component of group exercise is therapeutic. Furthermore, group exercise classes often use up-tempo music and choreography to make the class more fun and engaging.”

The benefits of group exercise are clearly understood by the staff at Lantern Hill’s on-site fitness center, where community members can choose from among eight different group classes.

Mat Pilates incorporates elements of yoga and Pilates to stretch and strengthen the core, hip flexors, and lower back.

Stretch, Strengthen, and Tone incorporates aerobics, weight lifting, stretching, and balance using various props like chairs, resistance bands, and small Pilates balls. Sullivan choreographs this class to music.

The Wednesday afternoon balance class draws between 40 to 50 participants, and the line dancing class adds an element of fun for the 15 to 25 people who attend. “These programs have been well received,” Sullivan says.

Chair yoga and tai chi provide no-impact exercise options on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

Aqua fitness and free swim in the community’s heated indoor pool and aquatics center also provide gentle no-impact options. Sullivan adds an element of fun when she turns on the music and shows participants ways to utilize water to build strength and ease arthritis pain.

“Nothing,” says Sullivan, “is better than getting in the pool.”

Drop your boxes, hit the gym

In addition to teaching most of the group fitness classes, Sullivan hosts an orientation meeting for new community members and encourages them to drop their moving boxes and come to the gym instead.

“Moving is tough on the body,” Sullivan says. “I have been amazed at how many new residents have jumped right into our programs. My gym is active all day now.”

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