That exercise is a social activity is not surprising. For millions of years our forebears physically worked together to provide shelter, craft rudimentary tools, hunt, and gather. If anything is strange today it’s how little we need to use our bodies to survive, which helps account for so many of our physical and emotional problems.
Nature designed in us a biological need for movement. In the past century this primal need has manifested in gyms and fitness studios. The current explosion in boutique and chain fitness—in 2015 over 30,000 clubs raked in $27 billion from 55 million members—is indicative of this essential component of being human. While some prefer solitary exercise, most like to share the experience with a partner (or two, or ten).
Being socially active is the main reason I’m drawn to teaching group fitness, which has accounted for half of my career since 2004 (and complements the solitary time spent writing and editing nicely). There’s nothing like stepping inside of a room of ten to fifty people a dozen times a week to move, sweat, stretch, be challenged, and laugh together. While anecdote is not data, the inspiration fitness enthusiasts derive from others is unquestionable.
Yet data are important, and new research from MIT Sloan School of Management’s Sinan Aral and Christos Nicolaides appears to back this theory up. While this particular research is focused on running, I’ve witnessed similar trends in many formats, especially yoga and studio cycling. As it turns out, your friends don’t even have to live near you—social media is helping foster this trend as well. As the NY Times reports,
Using data from surveys and postings on social media, scientists have reported that obesity, anxiety, weight loss and certain behaviors, including exercise routines, may be shared and intensified among friends.
Part of the reason such data have been difficult to track in the past is due to the unreliability of proclaimed workout regimens compared to how much people actually work out. Fitness trackers don’t allow fibbing. The researchers collected over five years of data from over a million runners, who collectively clocked in nearly 225 million miles.
First they assessed individual runners, whose identities were hidden. Then they compared it to friends they were connected with via their tracking device. They noticed similar training patterns even…