• The Role of Community in Health and Wellness

    By Bonnie Kretchik

    NASM Certified Personal Trainer
    B.A. in English

    As social beings, we are members of various communities. We are members of our family community, school community, church community, academic community and several more. Whether or not we are consciously aware, we participate, affect and are affected by the dynamic of perhaps hundreds of communities over the course of our lifetime…for better or for worse! From a health and wellness standpoint, our participation in communities is vital as, let’s face it, healthy eating and exercising are not always the easiest activities to get excited about. And while solitude and time for personal reflection also play an important part in overall health and well being, the dynamic of a group can be instrumental in honing our best selves.
    Participating and interacting with others introduces us to new experiences. We may find ourselves more willing to try new foods, read new books or participate in a new group exercise classes when in the company of our fellow community members. With the new year fast approaching, I encourage you to put a fair amount of thought into a resolution for 2018. While research has shown most resolutions are long forgotten by the end of January, this need not always be the case. This year, make a resolution to join a community that supports your health and wellness goals. These groups may be as large in number or consist of a few like-minded friends, yet regardless of the number they will keep you accountable, competitive and are sometimes just plain fun!

    Community and Accountability

    Believe it or not, even the most dedicated fitness enthusiast benefits from community involvement. Exercising with a group has shown to increase both participation and intensity, primarily due to a sense of accountability shared among fellow exercisers. No one wants to be the person who didn’t show up for Tuesday night spin or Sunday morning Yoga. It’s a lot harder to skip a sweat session when you know others are expecting you. And let’s face it, making healthy eating choices is hard…VERY hard. But planning meals and snacks ahead of time with the help of those in the same boat is key to long-term success. None of us is ever going to eat 100% clean 100% of the time, and there are occasions when you actually should indulge (yes, I said it!) because food is fun and an important part of life. But participating in a community or group of like-minded individuals can help get you back on track so the wheels don’t fall off for good.
    This month, find a group of individuals who share your health and wellness goals for the upcoming year. Be upfront and honest about your weaknesses and where you think you’ll need the most support. I’m willing to bet you’ll find that most of us share the same insecurities, temptations and weaknesses, so why not tackle them as a team!

    Community and Competition

    Even the self-proclaimed “non-competitive person” is, in actuality, very competitive. It’s just human nature to want to excel and perform better than those we perceive as the competition. This stems from our ancestral heritage where those who hunted best, ate and those who ran fastest, survived. Flash forward several millennia and while we may no longer be competing for the a nice juicy mastodon leg, many of us still secretly yearn to best our neighbors.
    Obviously, this can lead to obsessive and unhealthy behaviors, however, in many cases the competitive atmosphere of a community or group setting can aid in helping participants reach their fitness and wellness goals. Who hasn’t’ wanted to hold a plank five seconds longer than their neighbor or pushed themselves on the “hill” in the spin class faster than their fellow cyclists? True, competition has a dark side, but with the right outlook and among members of a supportive community, healthy competition reaps many rewards. This month, set a challenge with your fellow community members. Perhaps it is something simple such as who can do the most pull-ups by month’s end or who can come up with the healthiest side dish to serve at a holiday potluck. Keeping the challenges attainable for all with an agreed upon “prize” will bring out the inner competitor in community members.

    The Social Aspect of Community

    The bottom line is, we are social creatures. Sure, there are many times when we’d rather just plug in our headphones, silence the world around us and crank out our daily workout in solitude. The solo workout definitely has its place, primarily when time is an issue or an impromptu sweat session suddenly became an option when a meeting is cancelled or a spouse comes home unannounced and can watch the kids. But the reality is, we are social creatures and interacting with each other at the gym, in a class or on a run or bike ride is fun. Sure, it may not always be the hardest workout we’ve every completed. Perhaps we spent more time discussing last night’s episode of “Game of Thrones” than we did counting reps. But sometimes these more relaxed sessions are just what the doctor ordered. Not every workout needs to be a real killer and the improved mood achieved by simply being with friends is often just as beneficial as hammering out a tough session. Balance with health and wellness, just like all other aspects of life, is key. With a number of holiday themed events and happenings occurring this month, take the time to enjoy this time with friends. I, personally will be running a 5K dressed in a Santa Suit, something I would never do any other time of the year. So this month, be sure to enjoy the social aspect of your community as health is not always about workouts, sets and races, but the bigger picture, happiness!