Why you need an emotionally supportive training partner


Research is increasingly demonstrating the power of social interaction in influencing human behaviour. This is because the way we act is strongly affected by our colleagues, friends and family.

"Behavioural research shows that we're all heavily influenced by the behaviours and characteristics of the company we keep – for example, you may eat less when surrounded by thinner people – and it seems that the same applies to physical activity," says Head of Vitality Wellness, Dr Craig Nossel.

"Two of the biggest drawbacks to starting and maintaining an exercise regime are motivation and staying power," he explains, "but the solution may be as simple as finding an exercise partner."

In 2016, researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that enlisting a new exercise companion increases the amount of exercise people do and the frequency at which they do it.

Encouragement is more motivating than practical support

Interestingly, participants exercised better when their companions provided them with emotional support – more so than when their companions provided ‘instrumental’ support, like pitching up for every workout session.

Dr Pamela Rackow from the Institute of Applied Health Sciences explains: "Once we found that having a new exercise companion increases exercise frequency, we wanted to find out what quality of support has this effect. Our results showed that the emotional social support from the new sports companion was the most effective. Thus, it is more important to encourage each other than do the actual activity together."

"Humans are social creatures, and training together taps into our human desire for approval,” adds Nossel. "Along with increased accountability, exercising with others offers a greater sense of connection and satisfaction.”

Group exercise improves quality of life and reduces stress

Recent studies also show that exercising in a group improves quality of life and reduces stress far more than when you exercise alone. And, compared to other forms of exercise, participating in team sports has the biggest positive impact on mental health.

Getting fit with others is nothing new, says Mari Leach, Discovery Vitality Biokineticist. "In recent years there’s been an enormous amount of local and international interest in working out together, with increasing numbers participating in spinning, Cross-Fit, Zumba, boot camp and other fitness classes, as well as weekly parkruns."

"What's increasingly emerging are the benefits of exercising together instead of working out on your own," she continues. "In terms of commitment, intensity and duration, research demonstrates that having people around you helps you to stay focused, achieve your goals and up your game."

Over 5 million deaths could be avoided annually if we all exercised regularly

The more friends and family each person can motivate to get active, the better, given that insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide.

Globally, 1 in 4 adults are not active enough.

According to Discovery's The Road to a Healthier South Africa 2018 report, around half of South African adults live sedentary lifestyles. This is more than double the global average of 23% – making us one of the most inactive countries in the world, below Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Malaysia.

"Multiple studies highlight that insufficient physical activity is a key risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), with cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes; and this is hugely problematic," says Dr David Jankelow, cardiologist and President-elect of the South African Heart Association.

"In addition to being important in disease prevention, movement is also key to healing. Years ago, cardiac patients were kept immobile for an extended period, but today we know that getting these patients active is probably the most important thing we can do. The same goes for ICU patients."

A 'real-time and effective weapon against poor health'

Dinesh Govender, Chief Executive Officer at Discovery Vitality, adds: "Discovery's core purpose is to make people healthier, and to enhance and protect their lives. Vitality supports this by encouraging and rewarding healthier behavior – and Vitality Active Rewards is our most personalised, real-time and effective weapon against poor health."

"Our hope is that South Africans seize the chance to experience how compelling incentives and the social aspect of exercising can be – and for all this to fuel the start or the sustainment of healthier habits for life."

The Vitality Open. Anyone can join. Everyone wins

Download the Discovery app to join the Vitality Open and get rewarded for getting active and driving well.

Achieve your goals to earn great rewards PLUS if you reveal a diamond, you will go into a draw to win prizes … for life. Flights, fuel, gym, movies, concert tickets, smoothies, coffees, tyres, Uber, Nando’s, running shoes, HealthyFood and the latest iPhone … for LIFE. 

Here's how it works.

Enjoy getting active in a variety of ways with Vitality

Walk, run, cycle, swim, golf, race ... Vitality offers you many ways to get fit. Join a health club, link a fitness device to track your activity, take part in race events and join Team Vitality, our running and cycling club.

Like to hit the gym? Save up to 75% on your monthly gym fees and boost your savings up to a 100% with Vitality Active Rewards Gym Booster, or head outdoor and earn points for walks and runs. Learn more here.

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Research is increasingly showing the importance of social interaction in influencing human behaviour. This is because the way we behave is strongly affected by our colleagues, friends and family. Here's how some Vitality members are making the most of this.

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