Gathering Groupies - by Kirsten Alexander

Everyone knows that exercise is fabulously good for overall health, but did you know that exercising with others has even more benefits?
There's a reason why humans like to join clubs or groups. Even solitary sports like running have their fair share of clubs. Is this because we all need a little competition or a level to measure ourselves against, or is there something deeper to the phenomenon? GREATER GOOD It's been proven many times that social interaction is a highly important aspect of mental health. Science also says that people who participate in organised recreational activities are more alert and more resilient to the stressors of modern living. Do you need any other reason to join in a group activity? Before you think you have to be a fitness fundi to enjoy the benefits of group exercise, a recent study has shown that thinking about exercise is almost as effective as exercise itself. While this doesn't give you license to sit around with a bunch of buddies watching yoga videos, it does mean that if you practise mindfulness in any physical activity you're doing, the benefits are far greater than if you do it without being aware of what your body is doing. GET GOING If you don't belong to a cycling club or yoga class, what is there for you to do? Well, the possibilities are endless. Here's just a small list of fun ways to combine socialising and exercise: 1. TAKE A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE Even if you're not a serious hiker, being outdoors and stretching your muscles with a bunch of friends is highly beneficial. You don't need to get all the gear and train for Everest; simply head out to an expanse of nature and get walking. Remember to take water along. 2. PUMP UP THE VOLUME Who says dancing only has to happen in the dark? Pump up your favourite tunes and get your dancing shoes on. With great music and good friends, you'll soon find you've done a four-hour workout without feeling any strain or resistance. 3. CLEAN UP There are hundreds of open parkways and waterways in and around South Africa's cities that could do with a good clean up. Organise a group of community members to give your local green space a spruce up. You'll get to know your neighbours, get some exercise and do a lot of good all in one go. 4. WALK THE CITY We often ignore our own cities, looking instead to find hidden places in foreign lands. Leave your car at home and take a walking trip around your own city, exploring your environment with friends. You'll find you clock up extensive mileage throughout the day. 5. FREE ME Many animal shelters are in dire need of assistance. Try volunteering for a day. Whether it means cleaning out cages, sharing out food or taking a few orphans for a walk, you'll be guaranteed an energetic day with other people and furry friends.  6. FIND THE OTHERS If you're hard-pressed to get your friends to join in, make some new ones. To find groups of like-minded people, visit www.meetup.com and plug in your city name. Countless groups of strangers meet up in cities all over the world to go hiking, paddling, head out on photographic expeditions, dance the salsa, cave crawl and more.

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