With our swimming pools, gym equipment and HIIT workouts you’d be forgiven for thinking that a leisure centre’s mainstay is simply keeping fit.

But you’d be wrong. Leisure providers and gyms are in the business of wellness, whether that’s keeping your body healthy through exercise or providing a space where you can socialise and keep your mind active.  

As part of Life Leisure’s Live Well Live Life campaign we are sharing blogs to help the Stockport community to #Live well Live life. In the first of the series, we look at how activity can help tackle loneliness. 

The side-effects of loneliness 

It doesn’t matter how old you are, what your personal circumstances or how busy your life appears to be on the outside, we can all experience feelings of isolation.  

As well as affecting our mental health such as increasing anxiety and depression, research by the Campaign to End Loneliness claims loneliness can also have a detrimental effect on our physical health, increasing the likelihood of mortality by 26percent. It is also associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure or developing coronary heart disease and stroke. 

The good news is that your local gym or leisure centre, whether you are an early morning swimmer or take part in a class, has plenty of opportunities for you to meet and make new friends.  

A friendly workout 

Simply signing up for classes is one of the easiest ways to make friends, with a ready-made group of like-minded people waiting to spend 45 minutes working out together.  

Choose something that appeals to you, whether it’s a HIIT session, Body Pump class or a low-level guided exercise class for people with reduced mobility – there is always plenty of opportunity before and after the class to have a chat.  

You may think there’s little chance for socialisation once the music has started and the class is running, but just enjoying being in the company of other people and enjoying the class will be enough to boost your mood.  

Another great way you can tackle feelings of loneliness is by joining a team. A running club, racquet sport or football and netball teams are all great ways to meet new people – and more often than not involve more socialisation outside of the sessions. It’s been shown that people sharing an endorphin rush through a collective activity can actually bond more easily, even if they are complete strangers. 

Exercise endorphins 

If you’re not ready to socialise directly at the gym then simply getting on a machine or going for a swim will do wonders for your mental health.  

That’s because exercise releases endorphins – otherwise known as happy chemicals – which help relieve pain, reduce stress and improve your sense of well-being. The more you go, the happier you will feel, and hopefully the more open you will become to meeting and making new friends.  

And once you have been doing this for a couple of weeks you may find that you want to go along to a group session or strike up a conversation with someone in the changing room.  

Clear your head 

Regular, repetitive movements such as swimming lengths, pounding the treadmill or concentrating on a certain set of movements can be meditative, which is another great way of banishing thoughts of loneliness.  

Meditation can help by teaching the mind to be in the present rather than dwelling on the past or projecting into the future, removing the tendency to feel lonely.  

Familiar faces 

No matter when you arrive at a leisure centre or gym, whether it’s first thing in the morning or during peak times after work, there is always someone ready to greet you.  

So, whether you want to work out your emotions in a boxing ring or share the load with a friendly face, a friendly leisure centre is a great place to start.