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Exercising with a friend can influence how hard you work out, study suggests

Male and female friends influence men, however it is only female friends who influence women

Olivia Blair
Thursday 20 April 2017 14:22 BST

Do you notice an increased motivation to brave the outdoors and go for a run after your friend tells you she ran 10k at the weekend? Or, have you found a gym session or class was much more productive alongside a friend?

A study published in scientific journal Nature Communications found that friends have a major influence on a person’s exercise routine.

The daily exercise patterns of over a million people who ran over 350 million km in a global social network of runners over a five year period and found exercise is “socially contagious”.

Specifically, men are influenced by both their male and female friends while only women influence other women. Interestingly, less active runners influence more active runners.

The authors of the study, Sinan Aral and Christos Nicolaides, suggested men have no influence on women when it comes to fitness potentially because there are “gender differences in the motivations for exercises and competition”.

“For example, men report receiving and being more influenced by social support in their decision to adopt exercise behaviours, while women report being more motivated by self-regulation and individual planning,” they wrote.

Researchers measured the contagion among peers using an exercise tracker, after participants embarked on a run this was immediately shared with their friends on social platforms.

The study also found that not only are we inspired by our friends to get out and exercise, but we also display our competitive streak by wanting to outrun their performance.

When friends completed an additional kilometre in their run, their friends were subsequently influenced to run an additional 0.3 kilometres. Likewise, an additional 10 minutes spent running by a friend encouraged their peers to run for three minutes longer and an extra 10 calories burned by a friend meant three and a half extra calories were burned.

Researchers concluded that social intervention strategies “may spread behaviour change in networks more effectively than polices that ignore social spillovers” but also stressed their findings are only “suggestive”.

“These results suggest interventions that account for social contagion will spread behaviour change more effectively.”

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