Exercise could be contagious, especially among women

26 April 2017
By Fashion Quarterly

Kirsty godso (h)

This is why #fitspo actually gets you going.

There’s something about seeing your mate on social media extolling the virtues of exercise that makes you want to get your gear on and hit the gym.

While on the face of it, you might be forgiven for thinking you’re taking inspiration from the fact your friend has found the wherewithal to get off the couch and get moving – but as it turns out, we’re more driven than that.

According to a new study recently published in Nature Communications, it’s been revealed exercise is actually contagious, especially among women.

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The study’s authors, Sinan Aral and Christos Nicolaides, analysed the data of over 1.1 million people’s exercise trackers over a five year period. All up, runners ran a total of 350 million kilometres, and all runs were shared on a social media platform.

The researchers found that even incremental changes to a person’s exercise output had an effect. So for instance, if a person ran one kilometre further than usual, it could inspire their friend who usually runs more, to run 0.3 kilometres further. If a person runs faster than usual, their friend, who usually runs faster than them anyway, could in turn run 0.3k per minute faster themselves.


Watch: What’s the best way to get motivated? Article continues after video.

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The contagion process is slightly complicated though and tends to only work in certain ways: less active runners influence more active runners, but it doesn’t work the other way around.

And although women and men influence men, it’s only women who influence other women.

While the study notes the estimates are “suggestive”, the authors have put forward some pretty interesting ideas.

“Social comparisons may provide an explanation for these results,” the authors wrote. “Comparisons to those ahead of us may motivate our own self-improvement, while comparisons to those behind us may create ‘competitive behaviour to protect one’s superiority’.”

While we’re not necessarily the first to admit our motivation is driven by competitiveness, if it helps to get us to the gym, we’ll take it.

Photo: Instagram

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