social interaction

Integrating Social Connection into Exercise Physiology

Social interaction is a fundamental aspect of human life. We thrive on social connection and relationships, and research has shown that social interaction is critical for our mental health and well-being. However, in today’s fast-paced and technology-driven world, many of us find ourselves disconnected from others. 


At Specialised Health, we recognise the importance of social interaction for not only our own mental health, but also that of the customers we work with, which is why we make the effort to integrate it into our exercise physiology programs.


The Research on Staying Connected 


Social interaction has numerous benefits for mental health and for that reason, we recognise its importance for those we work with. Research has consistently shown that individuals who have more social connections and engage in more social activities have better mental health outcomes. For example, social support has been found to buffer the negative effects of stress, lower levels of depression and anxiety and even improve cognitive function, particularly in older adults. 


On the other hand, social isolation and loneliness have been linked to a range of negative mental health outcomes. A meta-analysis of 148 studies found that social isolation and loneliness were associated with a significantly increased risk of developing depression. Social isolation has also been linked to increased levels of anxiety, poor sleep quality, and even increased risk of mortality. Who knew that human interaction was so beneficial!? 


What Does That Have To Do With Us? 


You might be too polite to say it, but it doesn’t mean you’re not thinking it! If you’ve followed our content to date, you will know that exercise is a fantastic tool for mental health. What many people don’t know however, is that one of the many ways that exercise can help in this space, is by encouraging social interaction and connection. 


Being the purpose-driven people we are, we don’t just let this happen by accident (as it often does). It is something we consider with intention, just like the specific exercises we prescribe! 


To put it in context, imagine someone is on a mental health claim and has just been referred to us for exercise physiology. It is not uncommon that those struggling with their mental health will socially isolate themselves to some degree. Meeting us and opening up is often the first hurdle (and in turn, the first win!). From there, we make it our aim to build rapport and connect with the client ourselves before implementing other factors to promote social interaction. These often include components such as: 

    • Completing sessions outside of the home, such as in a public park where there are other people around 
    • Joining a gym where the client is encouraged to have some interaction with others 
    • Encouraging friends and family to be involved in the exercise program, such as going on walks or doing workouts together 
    • Including purposeful social interaction as a goal of the program (for example, getting coffee with a friend 1 x per week)
    • The addition of a group fitness element


Returning to Work 


For many people we work with in the mental health space, we have a well-being focus – i.e. improving confidence, overall health/well-being and getting them back to a place of normalcy in regard to the things they are able to do. For others, work readiness, or even a return to work might be the goal. If this is the case, we also need to take a step further and consider not only the importance of social interaction, but also the social demands in their role. 


For those who are struggling with social anxiety especially, returning to work can be a daunting task. In fact a lot of the time, the social elements involved in a customer’s job are the main perceived barrier to them successfully returning. This becomes even more apparent if social factors within the workplace contributed to them coming off work in the first place. 


As with physical tasks, we can break down these demands and work on including similar interactions within the exercise physiology program to gain confidence overtime. Of course in this scenario we encourage that the client is working with the appropriate mental health professional as well. 


Touch Base With Us!


Whatever the goal, we’ve seen time and time again the benefit of including elements of social connection. If you have a client that might benefit from this approach, or you have any further questions – don’t hesitate to reach out! As great as our blogs are, we never shy away from real life social interaction ourselves. 



Author: Tessa Nielsen
Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Content Creator at Specialised Health

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