Social Media Can Push Runners to Improve Their Performance

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Sometimes peer pressure works in our favor. According to a new study published in Nature Communications, the running habits of our peers have a direct impact on how hard we push ourselves in our own regimens. And this effect isn’t limited to friends in the neighborhood: Virtual pals can also motivate us to catch up to their level.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, the study was conducted by MIT researchers looking at data from 1.1 million users on a social fitness app. After users went for a run, their stats were shared online for others in their network to see. The researchers found that after seeing that a friend had added 10 minutes to their run that day, users extended their own runs by three additional minutes, on average. That same pattern carried over to other measures of performance: When one user ran an extra kilometer, their friend ran an extra 0.3 kilometers; when one user burned 10 more calories than normal, their friend burned an additional 3.5.

To further investigate their theory that exercise is contagious, the researchers threw weather into the mix. If peer pressure is really that strong a motivator, they surmised that the effects of nice weather should be felt by members of the network living in places with less ideal conditions. Their hunch was correct: If a sunny day in St. Louis pushes people to stay outside longer, users in Seattle will see that and leave the house even if it's raining.

Runners are also more likely to compare themselves to users of their own gender. A male runner is moderately motivated to compete with high-performing women, and strongly motivated to keep up with high-performing men. Women, on the other hand, are only motivated by other women and ignore the stats of men.

Runners looking to exploit the powers of remote running buddies have plenty of places to find them. As the study shows, running apps are a useful tool for connecting with friends. There are also virtual themed running clubs for those who like to mix pop culture with their cardio.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]