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The Newest (Socially) Contagious Disease Is Exercise

21 April 2017, 02:16 | Winifred Adams

Runners at the Boston Marathon may have been encouraged by their friends' exercise routines. Steven Senne AP

Runners at the Boston Marathon may have been encouraged by their friends' exercise routines. Steven Senne  AP

"People who are less active influence people who are more active with a greater magnitude than the other way around". They recorded daily exercise patterns, geographical locations, and social network ties.

For many of us, our workout buddy - that friend who will yell if we attempt to bail on barre class (again) - is the key to actually motivating us to get off the couch. If two friends have several mutual connections and one is an avid runner, the other will likely pick up the habit-and probably end up running a bit farther or faster than his or her friend, possibly to stay ahead of the pack. The data contain the daily distance, duration, pace, and calories burned by the runners, recorded by digital fitness tracking devices.

A new research of exercise behaviors of over one million people revealed that running can be contagious.

"On the same day, on average, an additional kilometer run by friends can inspire someone to run an additional three-tenths of a kilometer and an additional ten minutes run by friends can inspire someone to run three minutes longer", the authors wrote. Men also tended to run more when they saw both their male and female friends running, but women ran more only at the influence of other women.

One of the key findings of the data revealed numerous runners often compared themselves to those ahead of themselves to motivate their own self-improvement.

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Historically, in the context of exercise, a debate exists about whether we make upward comparisons to those performing better than ourselves or downward comparisons to those performing worse than ourselves.

The findings were stark - an additional kilometer run by a user's friends influenced them to run an additional third of a kilometer, and an additional kilometer per minute run by friends pushed them to run an additional 0.3 kilometers per minute faster than usual. The study in Nature Communications journal put the contrast between men and women down to "gender differences in the motivations for exercise and competition".

"In general, if you run more, it is likely that you can cause your friends to run more", Aral said.

To avoid these pitfalls, the researchers only looked at relationships between runners who lived in different cities.



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