Group Exercise and the Evolution of Friendship

Written by

March 14, 2014

With great interest, I read Jody’s last blog before the new year on how people quickly forget about their new year resolutions. I am one of them! During the holidays season, my office was bombarded with sweet treats from patients and, before I know it, I must have gained about five pounds. It might not seem to be impressive to many of you when someone gains five pounds. If you are petite like me, however, five pounds can be tough and I can feel it around my waist. I quickly made a new year resolution of reducing simple carbohydrates and red meat intake and exercising more than 4 hours a week.

 Did it work? Well, I showed up the first week of January to an open house party at the office of Dr. Aimee Seidman, a friend and fellow boot camper. As a server approached me with a plate full of beautiful roast beef on French toast, I politely declined, as many of my friends were reaching out for his plate. Maybe this server should have disappeared into the back of the office after his first round, but instead, he emerged with more plates of beautiful roast beef on French toast! I decided that to be polite to him I should take just one piece and one piece only. I still haven’t asked Dr. Seidman where she catered her food from, but this roast beef appetizer was so delicious that I no longer remembered my new year’s resolution. I didn’t know how many pieces of appetizers I had, but I definitely did not touch the vegetable trays that evening. By the time I left my friend’s office, I felt as if I had eaten a whole cow. I was horrified but not surprised at my “behavior.” If I, a physician who knows much about healthy food, couldn’t even control myself, how would I expect my obese patients, who probably frequently are exposed to even better appetizers, to stick to their diet? Resolutions are easy to make but not so easy to do. 

My overweigh patients, like the rest of the patients and me, are smart people. Most of them understand what “BMI” stands for. Most of them know what I mean when I advise them to “Cut down the simple carbs and eat leaner proteins” or “Eat frequent small meals.” We all know what this means, but our hands keep reaching out for the “wrong” appetizers.

The same human behavior is seen when it comes to exercise. We tend to make excuses of why we can’t be at the gym this evening. Fatigue is a big factor at the end of a working day. We just want to go home to our comfort zone and sit around reading our newspapers or watching the evening news before dinner. More news will come after dinner. I want to get off my bed to do pushups between the commercials, but my comforter is too comfortable for me to get off my bed. I want to do a few sets of sit ups or abdominal crunches while watching the news but I am afraid I can’t “concentrate” on what Anderson Cooper is telling me. When I was younger, I would drive to the gym which is only five minutes from the hospital and run a few miles before going back to deliver a patient. I never missed a delivery. Nowadays, I make all kinds of excuses not to leave the hospital ground.

“What if I lose my parking slot?”

A little voice should tell me “You still have four more garage levels with hundreds of slots”

“Maybe I should rest in the call room in case tonight will be a hard night.”

 A little voice should have said: “Really? Just half an hour on the treadmill? You are on call less nowadays with more people in your group. You have more sleep than 15 years ago when you did more deliveries and managed to exercise 10 hours a week.”

Somehow, this little voice has been weakening over the years and has allowed me to make excuses for my laziness.

Do you know a great solution to all the above problems? Group Exercise! When you can no longer push yourself, have someone else push you toward your goal!

Since our boot camp was formed three years ago, we have grown from a 6 women camp to more than 40 now. Some of us are “hard core” enough to come almost every Saturday, while others come once a month. Many of us have, however, joined a gym to do some extra workouts beside our Saturday sessions. Our friendship has blossomed to the point that we look forward to see each other for bootcamp, if family obligations allow. Whenever we don’t have to take the children to their own sport events, we are now more willing to push ourselves out of bed on a cold winter morning to drive to wherever our camp is held that week, knowing that we will have a hard workout and many laughs together. Our trainer Troy complained to our spouses that we often talk his earlobes off, but he understands how friendship has driven us week after week back to camp. Distraction by our little chats takes us away from our discomfort and allows us to keep doing our multiple reps of pushups or lunges and squats. It is no different from a laboring woman who tries to concentrate on her breathing techniques to forget temporarily her painful contractions.

Our bootcamp also has grown into a community of women who care about each other. Every time someone has a problem, an email is sent out and almost immediately, multiple “Reply to all” emails can be seen where others in the group learn more about what to do in case we have a similar problem. Most of us are healthcare professionals such as physicians or dentists so the help to our patients has been amazing. I have learned so much from my friends about their medical specialties, which physician to send a patient to in case the patient has a problem etc… The information has been invaluable.

Of course, our getting together to push each other toward better health has also given birth to the website Lady Docs Corner Cafe (, the name given by my husband David as he observed our gatherings after the bootcamp as if we were in a coffee shop. Our website hopefully has helped many patients learn useful information about health, fitness and nutrition. We now have neurosurgeons, gastroenterologists, oncologists, dentists, public health professors, ophthalmologists, pediatricians, obstetricians and gynecologists of course, and multiple primary care doctors who can help each other’s patients. It has been an incredible journey!

Studies have shown how, when exercising together, we can also push each other to a higher level. We try to keep up with our peers and, therefore, push ourselves to finish the exercises or to achieve a certain level of exercise.

If you gather with your friends whose careers or personal lives have many things in common with you, you never know how powerful your group can turn out. You, like us, might end up forming a website for the community, not necessarily in health and fitness, but for some other useful or fun projects. You, like us, will find time to gather for a craft show in Baltimore, a hot pot event for Chinese New Year celebration, a fashion show at a boot camper’s house, or an evening for Indian food where we, our spouses and children took over an entire restaurant in Gaithersburg last fall. Some husbands have become good friends and recently started their own boot camp to follow ours. Friendship is pleasantly contagious!

Some of my patients have exercised with friends or in groups. One told me how she insists on being the designated driver so she has to pick up all three friends on the way to the gym. She knows her “weak” will and forces herself to drive her friends so she can be consistent with her workout. Other patients belong to bootcamp groups all over our area. Several patients plan to turn their book club groups into exercise groups. I have seen a few groups of women in my area fast walking with each other even in the snow and rain, some with coffee mugs in their hands! They always seem to be having a great time as their feet keep moving. Before they know it, they will be finishing the 3.2 mile walk in my neighborhood. 

I think most of us recognize the value and necessity of friendship in all aspects of life. Simply put, a gathering of good friends to do whatever activity, in this case exercise, can be a joy and an effective way to change attitudes. Working out together makes the tough workouts more tolerable. 

After all, I still “blame” my boot camp friends who influenced me in taking that first piece of Kobe beef appetizer at Dr. Seidman’s Open House. If it was not for all the “Umm” and “Ahh…” as they were eating their appetizers, I might have been disciplined enough to stay away from red meat as I promised myself to do for the new year. See how group pressure can change one’s attitude?

I hope this blog will help push you into forming a group to exercise together. Ask your neighbors, your friends, your colleagues at work. Let me know how your group turns out!

“When we exchange manly handshakes, compete in races, join together to save one of us who is in trouble, cry aloud for help in the hour of danger—Only then do we learn that we are not alone on earth.”

—Antoine de Saint-Exupery