In the bustling life of a college student, where academic pressures and social challenges often collide, anxiety has become a prevalent issue. However, a groundbreaking study titled “Social Networks, Group Exercise, and Anxiety Among College Students” by M. Patterson, L. Gagnon, A. Vukelich, S. E. Brown, Jordan L. Nelon, and T. Prochnow, published in October 2019, sheds light on a promising solution: group exercise. This article aims to dissect the study’s findings and offer practical advice for group exercise instructors on leveraging these insights to foster health and wellbeing among their clients.

Overview of the Study

The research delves into the intricate relationship between group exercise membership, the characteristics of social networks, and the levels of general state anxiety among college students. The study’s hypothesis posits that participation in group exercise activities could significantly impact students’ mental health, particularly in reducing anxiety levels. Through a comprehensive analysis involving 490 undergraduates from a private university in the southern United States, the study employs an egocentric network analysis to explore how various factors, including demographic variables, leisure-time physical activity, group exercise membership, flourishing scores, and network variables, correlate with anxiety.

Detailed Analysis of the Results

The findings of the study are both compelling and insightful. Regression analyses reveal that group exercise membership is inversely related to anxiety scores, suggesting that students who engage in group exercise tend to report lower levels of anxiety. Furthermore, the study highlights the positive impact of flourishing scores on reducing anxiety, underscoring the importance of psychological wellbeing. Conversely, being a racial/ethnic minority and having personal networks composed of individuals who frequently exercise were associated with higher anxiety levels among the participants.

The researchers used these results to draw significant conclusions about the role of group exercise in mitigating anxiety. The inverse relationship between group exercise membership and anxiety levels indicates that the social and communal aspects of group exercise may play a crucial role in alleviating stress and promoting mental health among college students.

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Practical Tips for Group Exercise Instructors

  • Foster a Supportive Community: Emphasise the creation of a welcoming and supportive environment in your exercise classes. Encourage participants to connect and support one another, fostering a sense of community and belonging.
  • Incorporate Mindfulness and Stress-Reduction Techniques: Alongside physical exercise, integrate mindfulness practices and stress-reduction techniques into your sessions. This holistic approach can further enhance the anxiety-reducing benefits of group exercise.
  • Promote the Benefits of Group Exercise: Actively communicate the mental health benefits of group exercise to encourage participation. Highlighting the study’s findings can motivate students to join and stick with the programme.
  • Tailor Programmes to Meet Diverse Needs: Recognise the diverse backgrounds and fitness levels of your participants. Tailoring your programmes to be inclusive and accessible can help in attracting and retaining a broader demographic, including those who may benefit the most from group exercise.
  • Engage in Continuous Learning: Stay informed about the latest research in exercise science and psychology to continually refine your approach and techniques, maximising the benefits for your clients.

By integrating these strategies, group exercise instructors can play a pivotal role in not just enhancing physical fitness but also in promoting mental health and wellbeing among college students. The study “Social Networks, Group Exercise, and Anxiety Among College Students” offers valuable insights that, when applied thoughtfully, can make group exercise a powerful tool in the fight against anxiety.


Patterson, M., Gagnon, L., Vukelich, A., Brown, S. E., Nelon, J. L., & Prochnow, T. (2019). Social networks, group exercise, and anxiety among college students. Journal of American College Health, 68(3), 297-304. Click here to review the full research article

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