Fitness fun: Make sure exercise is infectious


Kate Cracknell, myASPRIA contributor, looks at a new survey on our exercise habits – fitness fun.

If you’re struggling to stick to your exercise routine, it’s time to surround yourself with like-minded individuals – because the more your friends exercise, the more you will.

“This year, I’m going to exercise regularly and get fit.”

We’ve all been there haven’t we, setting ourselves a new year’s resolution to get in shape and get fit. And it’s so easy to say on 1 January.

Yet it’s so hard to do in practice – as the novelty wears off, we realize how much time it’s going to take to actually get fit, and obstacles place themselves between us and our gym visits: long days of work, family commitments, dinner with friends…

So how can we help ourselves?

Make friends at the gym
Well, here’s the good news: it turns out that exercise is infectious: surround yourself with networks of friends who exercise and it can positively influence your own exercise habits.

How so? Did you know that if you’ve made a friend at the gym in the last three months, you’re 40% less likely to give up on your gym membership than those who haven’t? As the UK researchers behind this study conclude, it’s a great reason to start making connections at the gym, surrounding yourself with people who will hold you accountable – albeit in a nice way, because you don’t want to miss out on a gym session with them.

And now researchers from the MIT Sloan School of Management have found that ‘peer pressure’ is as evident in fitness as in other areas of life, with our own activity levels influenced by the activity of our friends: the more our friends exercise, the more we will.

The power of your social network
In coming to this conclusion, the researchers focused on running, looking at whether someone’s global network of friends would affect how far they ran. To do this, they analysed fitness tracker data that was posted to a social media site by around 1.1 million people over a period of five years.

Acknowledging that individuals will have deep-rooted, and often unobservable, reasons for behaving in a particular way, the researchers focused on the weather as a naturally occurring variable – something they could observe and that could be expected to influence people’s propensity to run, without needing to delve deeper into people’s very diverse behavioural drivers.

The team reasoned that good weather would encourage longer runs, while bad weather would result in shorter runs. They hypothesised that when people in one location experienced good weather and extended their runs accordingly, their friends in different locations would see this and also extend their runs – even though they were experiencing different weather. This hypothesis was proven across the board.