The benefits of group exercise: UNE student research project receives international attention
For Dayna Yorks, D.O. ’17, fitness is second nature. “I was a group fitness instructor for years prior to medical school and it had become a part of who I was – it kept me grounded, whole and happy.” When she arrived at the University of New England, she soon found the rigor and demands of medical school were taking a toll, so she started teaching fitness classes to small groups of friends. The classes were so well received she began working to create a formal fitness program for the UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine that could continue after she graduated.
Yorks was discussing her quest to start this program with Mark Schuenke, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy, in the gym one day. They were talking about the impact of exercise and group fitness on medical students’ well-being, and Schuenke realized there was an opportunity for valuable research. “He said, ‘why not bring a formal fitness program to UNE COM AND do a research project on it?’” Yorks recalled.
They enlisted the help of Christopher Frothingham, D.O., associate professor and interim chair of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine and Marilyn Gugliucci, Ph.D., professor and director of Geriatrics Education and Research, who assisted in developing a study that asked 69 first and second-year medical students about their stress levels and quality of life over a 12-week period. Those students were broken down into three groups: those participating in group fitness classes, those exercising alone or with up to two partners, and those who did not regularly exercise.
The study found that overall, exercise improved mental health. The research also showed that those who took the fitness class experienced the most significantly decreased levels of perceived stress and increased physical, mental and emotional quality of life. The study was published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association and gained the attention of media outlets around the world.
“This research wouldn’t have happened without the incredible support of three amazing faculty members – Dr. Schuenke, Dr. Frothingham, and Dr. Gugliucci,” Yorks said. “They willingly provided guidance and mentorship that taught me about the research and publication process and ensured success in each step along the way. They believed in me, and their endless encouragement, enthusiasm and care strengthened our relationships. I can honestly say that I made three lifelong friends out of this experience, which is pretty special, and speaks volumes about the heart behind the university.”
In addition to the success of her research, Yorks is proud that the fitness program she created is still active and thriving on campus, with new medical students training to become instructors each year. “I hope that what people, especially medical students, take away from this study is that exercise plays a significant role in quality of life. There are social and supportive aspects of group fitness that can be especially helpful in improving your mental health, but the most important thing is to exercise!”