When Susan Spidle signed up for her recreational womens soccer team, she got just what she was looking for: an instant social life. “I had moved back to Albuquerque after 10 years away, and I didnt know many people in town anymore,” the 34-year-old veterinarian says. Although Spidle hadnt played much since college, she immediately connected with the other women on the team.
Spidle has been playing with the group for five seasons now. And as much as she enjoys the game, the players are what keep her coming back. “Our underlying friendship is really strong. Weve been through hard times together—major injuries, painful breakups, and job changes—but also good times like bachelorette parties and new babies,” she says. If she were faced with a challenge in her personal life, Spidle knows she could turn to any one of her 20 teammates for support.
Spidle rarely misses the teams weekly workouts and matches, but she hardly thinks of them as exercise. “You run like five miles during a soccer game, but its a pleasure,” she says. “I didnt ever imagine Id keep doing this after college. Now I cant imagine quitting.”
The take-away: Enthusiasm is infectious, as one recent study shows. Researchers at Northern Arizona University and Wake Forest University asked 90 adults to attend one of four fitness classes. In some, the classmates acted bored and uninterested; in others, they were enthusiastic and supportive of each other. The study volunteers not only enjoyed the spirited classes more (who wouldnt?), but they also were more likely to want to return to a similar class in the future.
Make it work for you: If you find it hard to get moving, focus on finding a group fitness activity with great dynamics, says study author Lesley Fox, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Beyond the obvious signs of liveliness (copious belly laughing, etc.), search for classes with a loyal following, people who linger to chat postgame or postworkout, teams that seem to take losing as well as winning, and members who socialize together outside the gym or off the field. Or find a group that shares a common goal that keeps participants fired up in anticipation. Many health clubs now offer classes to help members train for specific events (a breast cancer awareness run, for example). These groups also form an excellent arena for building friendships, says Gregory Florez, a health coach in Salt Lake City and CEO of FitAdvisor.com.