And while you might assume it's the marathon runners influencing the everyday joggers to get out there and pound the pavement, the analysis suggested the opposite. While men were affected by the running patterns of male and female companions, women were influenced exclusively by their female friends. These apps store data on websites connected to different forms of social media; every run was posted online for friends to see.
The results were impressive. Moreover, if those friends ran an extra 10 minutes, an individual is likely to run about three minutes longer than they would have otherwise. More calories burned for one runner would mean more calories burned for his or her friends.
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When the people you know run more, you run more. Influence among same sex pairs is strong while influence among mixed sex pairs is weaker. Men were motivated by both men and women, whereas, women were only influenced by women.
The idea that our friends' habits affect our own (and vice versa) is nothing new.
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"Knowing the running behaviours of your friends as shared on social networks can cause you to run farther, faster, and longer", said Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan Professor Sinan Aral, in a statement. For starters, numerous studies are survey-based and rely on accurate self-reporting, which is something we are notoriously bad at.
Exercise is "socially contagious" with our activity levels strongly influenced by those around us, they found. Experts looked at 1.1 million adults around the world belonging to running groups on social networking sites, such as Facebook. Plus, people who are geographically close are likely to be impacted by the same outside influences.
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"This may be due to gender differences in the motivations for exercise and competition", wrote Aral and Nicolaides in the study. The work marks a watershed moment in the use of detailed fitness tracking data to understand health behavior and causal behavior change.