I’m a big fan of the concept of social fitness … spending time with friends, family or colleagues while working out or doing something physical. It’s a healthy and fun alternative to always getting together over dinner/drinks, or sitting in a conference room or cafe. And it’s a fantastic way to train for an event or keep yourself accountable to fitness goals. It’s even the main way that my sister and I stay connected while we’re temporarily living in different states.
But there are benefits to going it alone sometimes, too.
Tim has been sick this week, and we said goodbye to our last guests of the season, so yesterday I headed out to take a few turns by myself. In the sunshine, empty-ish slopes, and great snow, I noticed a few things about working out or doing something physical alone:
- I experience incredible focus. My brain just seems to process information and problems better. Whatever’s on my mind, hashing through it during a solo run, tennis drills with the ball machine or a few solitary turns on the slopes almost always guarantees more creative ideas and smart solutions, in half the time it would take sitting still inside.
- Working out alone gives me the space and time to notice and savor my own personal preferences and pace. I like pushing myself and being pushed by friendly competition. But there’s an up side to taking others out of the equation. When I’m on my own, I can slow down when I’m tired or go harder when I’m energized, without worrying about holding up a group or racing ahead like a jerk. It’s a great time to get in touch with my personal boundaries and areas of opportunity.
- I notice the world more. When I’m on my own, I’m not distracted by making conversation or interacting with a smaller group. I end up chatting with random, interesting strangers on the chair lift and appreciating previously unnoticed scenery on a run. I find my worldview somehow expands, which is a good reminder to keep my eyes open, notice the little things happening around me and not get too myopic about life. And not just when I’m exercising.
Turns out there’s scientific proof supporting a lot of what I’m experiencing. For example, when it comes to the increased focus I feel, experts find that the brain benefits from the increased blood flow and the formation of new neurons during exercise, leading to cognitive benefits like more focus, concentration and memory. Of course, this is benefit you’d likely experience even when with others, but I feel it more acutely when I’m on my own.
So the next time your morning workout buddy bails on you, don’t go back to sleep — get out there by yourself.