Posting your running data encourages your friends to do more exercise

Can a sunny day in Boston make people in Chicago go out running? Can this still be possible even though the weather in Chicago is rainy and cold?…Yes….Why? Because of social networks. An analysis of one million runners, who ran a combined more than 350 million kilometers over five years and posted about it on social networks, suggests that exercise is contagious. Weather conditions are less important than a friend posting his or her running track.

For every 10 minutes of running, a friend can run an extra three minutes

The analysis, published in the journal Nature Communications by MIT Sloan School of Management professor Sinan Aral, determined that runners encouraged each other just by posting their data on social networks. For every kilometer run by a friend, another runner is encouraged to run an extra 300 meters. For every 10 minutes of running, a friend runs an extra three minutes, even in adverse weather conditions.

The study revealed that a sunny day in Boston had a positive influence on runners of other cities, even when in those cities the weather was rainy. This was because the weather was not the key. Rather, the key to going out and doing some exercise, it turns out, was the social relations between friends. People in Chicago with friends in Boston watched the running data and also decided to go out. Apparently, knowing that the running behavior of their friends are shared on social networks encouraged runners to do more exercise, to run farther, faster, and longer.

The study also offered some factors that can make exercise more or less contagious. Top runners do not encourage amateur ones, but rather those  runners that perform at the same level amateurs do. If your friend has your same level, the influence is high. If he or she is a much better athlete than you are then the influence is poor. But even within the same performance level, there are some interesting differences: for example, friends who perform a little bit worse tend to motivate more others.

Men do not influence women

With respect to gender there is another interesting conclusion: men strongly influence men, and women moderately influence both men and women. But men do not influence women at all. The study points out that this may be due to gender differences in  motivations for exercise and competition. For example, men report receiving and being more influenced by social support in their decision to adopt new exercising habits, while women report being more motivated by self-regulation and individual planning.

So, remember, if  you want to help a friend do more exercise, post your last run!

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