By Joann Donnelly, MA, BCC, CHFS , Executive Director of Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Programs at the YMCA of Greater Boston

Each year, millions of people attempt to begin a regular exercise program to get healthier, lose weight or reduce stress. Unfortunately, most people are unsuccessful and become a part of the majority of adults who know they should exercise but somehow just can’t seem to make the habit stick.

How can more people achieve their goals and keep with an exercise habit? With no magic wand available, I suggest one word that can help tremendously: community.  There is a variety of evidence that social support can be critical to successfully maintaining an exercise habit.

Let’s start small with the notion of community being just two people. Having a good exercise partner can help motivate you to continue with an exercise routine. A person you trust and who understands and supports your ability level and goals will encourage you to stick with it and provide necessary encouragement and affirmation. Having someone to hold you accountable and keep you engaged – and you for them – can make all of the difference.  And that partner need not have just 2 legs; many people have 4-legged exercise buddies!

Now let’s expand that notion of community to a small group of people. Experts agree that group-based exercise can be beneficial by providing the structure, support and the accountability that many people need in order to be successful.  Group members can encourage and inspire each other. Groups can also bring a sense of play and fun to the exercise that some people need to stay motivated. Another benefit of most group exercise is the leader/instructor can also provide motivation, inspiration and a balanced routine.

At the YMCA we see both levels of community at work every day in our facilities and programs. The Hometown Wellness Showdown provides an opportunity for people to get motivated through an even larger definition of community: their local towns. Friendly competition and a team-based approach to crowning eastern Massachusetts’ healthiest town can be a great way to help to not only achieve exercise goals, but also improve overall health.

Joann is a Board Certified Life Coach by the Center for Credentialing and Education, a national faculty trainer for YMCA of the USA, is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a Health and Fitness Specialist and has a Master’s degree in Psychology.