New research finally explains why you’re so obsessed with your group fitness class.
You stand outside the studio door waiting to charge to the front of the room when the previous class lets out to get a spot close to her. You set your alarm for 4am to book a bike 26 hours in advance for his cycling class. And you text her in the morning to make sure she (god forbid) is not subbing out her yoga class that afternoon.
We get it. It’s his inspiring energy, her dedication to you and the class — there is a major emotional component of group fitness. It’s what gets you out of bed when that alarm goes off in the morning and what gets you out of the house and into the club on a cold rainy night. But, according to new research, there may be a scientific reason for your obsession too: Sweating and sculpting together releases a chemical hormone. The same hormone the body releases when you begin to fall in love.
“It works for voles (a small central North American rodent),” says William Kenkel, PhD, who has discovered the correlation between exercise and bonding. “We haven’t looked at cycling class, but I wouldn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work there, too.”
In research presented last October at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans, Kenkel examined male prairie voles, which tend to exhibit more human-like monogamy in relationships than other rodents. He found that the males who exercised bonded more to females than the males who were sedentary.
Part of the reason could be that exercise and other stressors are thought to release oxytocin, a neurohypophysial hormone, which plays a role in maternal bonding during and after childbirth and recently has been found to make adults like one another. That’s why oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone.”
“Pair bonding is facilitated by stress, so it stands to reason that you’d feel a bond with your instructor or others in class,” says Kenkel.
“I am always reminded of that line in the movie 'Speed' spoken by Sandra Bullock to Keanu Reeves: ‘Relationships formed under stressful experiences never work out,’ says Kenkel. “Well, I disagree with that. To facilitate bonding, you should go to scary movies on a date. Or exercise.”
So, on this Valentine’s day, we’d like to share some of our favorite love stories. Equinox-style:
NYC: Nadia Zaki’s Dance Class
Carol Day has been an Equinox member for over 16 years and attends classes five days per week. A big reason for that, she says, is Nadia Zaki, who teaches cycling, yoga, inner strength (ballet-like body weight exercises), and dance class. Day rarely misses any of them, but dance is special.
“Nadia’s Tuesday dance class at 11 am is like my boyfriend,” Day says, “There is an amazing relationship and bond between the students and Nadia — an understanding that we are in this together. That one-hour of dance is particularly special; you feel incredibly beautiful at the end of the routine. I look forward to it all week long — like the anticipation of a first date.”
And she’s not the only one who feels that way. “The majority of her students — myself included — all schedule our lives around her. At the end of class, we are high-fiving each other. Nadia brings this incredible passion, devotion and inspiration to her classes each week. She’s born to teach – it’s her craft; it’s part of her DNA."
LA: Audrey Adler’s Cycling Class
Sharon Ignarro recently rejoined Equinox after two years away and is now a proud member of Beverly Hills. Why?
“We missed Audrey’s spin class,” says Sharon, a Beverly Hills anesthesiologist, of the long-time cycling instructor at the Beverly Hills and West L.A. clubs. Ignarro and her husband Lou Ignarro, a U.C.L.A. professor, were broken-down runners with bad knees when Adler invited them into her class in 2005.
“I was nervous and afraid to try cycling, but she was so encouraging and charismatic that was hard to resist,” says Ignarro. “She draws you in, makes you feel like it’s a real ride, takes you to your limits. And she’s a hardcore cyclist who really knows how to ride a bike. I actually didn’t know exactly what she was teaching me until we started biking outdoors with her. After two weeks, she and I rode to San Diego together.”
The Ignarros helped start a local bike club, the Beverly Hills Social Climbers, and regularly do some of the toughest challenges in the region, including the 3-ride King of the Mountains.
“All of it is thanks to Audrey,” says Ignarro. “That’s why I will not miss her class.”