March 8, 2013
Assemble Your Team: 3 Reasons for Group Support

Quick! Name a herding mammal….
Elephants, buffalo, cows, horses….. humans. Yes, we are herding animals. But our groups are not called herds, packs, or flocks. Ours are called towns, villages, and cities. While we could have a wonderful chat about the neurochemistry and endocrinology of people in groups, I would like to focus on why getting healthy and staying healthy is much more effective in a group. Let’s look at 3 reasons why having a group is important.

1. Accountability
I bet you knew this one was coming. How good are you at holding yourself accountable to yourself? How good are you at keeping yourself accountable to someone else? Your boss? Your parents (at one time in your life)? Your coaches or teachers? The fact is most of us are terrible at staying accountable to ourselves. But when someone else has expectations of you, accountability increases. Why is this? Simple, we are social animals. If you set a goal to be healthy but fail to act on it, you will justify why you did not follow through. This failure to act is not threatening to your self-image or your perception of your ability. This is simply a time when you could not be healthy because you, “did not have the time,” or you were, “going to start next week.” The fact is that when others expect things of us, we fear their judgment of us if we should fail. Also, we may strive for the acknowledgement we receive from them when we succeed. When you are accountable to someone else, you are more likely to try to prove your skills and abilities. Also, you are more likely to push yourself farther than before. If you have had a personal trainer, you know exactly what I am talking about.

2. Social Facilitation
People perform differently in groups. People run faster when others watch. People work harder when others rely on them.  We see this in the research and in everyday life. If you have ever raced anyone in any event, then you have experience with social facilitation. In the exercise world this is where group workouts, group training, and group classes come into play. If you choose to go into the gym and do 500 squats and pushups, I will bet (and win) that you will complete your workout faster if you do it with a friend. Make sure your exercise groups are not too large. If so, social loafing will start to rear its lazy head.

3. Oxytocin
Being social releases oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone” and is released from physical contact, social connection, and from trusting situations. This hormone acts as a counterbalance to cortisol. When you feel stressed, cortisol is released to help. Chronic stress, however, leads to chronic cortisol release and actually breaks down the body. When you are stressed, worried, or depressed, get back to your group. Social connection can help boost your mood and overall feelings of well-being. Do not hide away all by your lonesome. Join a group, get together with fellow hobbyists, meet up with your friends; do something other than wallow in your stress. Go workout with your awesome team of support!

We are herd animals. This fact creates interesting topics for sociology and neurobiology, but it also allows us to use the power of groups to keep us accountable, working hard, and feeling good.

Stay strong, team.

Written by Clark Masterson

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