That annoying runner on your social media feed is deeply influential

Moreover, not all runners influenced their connections equally, with individuals more likely to up their game in response to increased performance by less active peers than more active ones.

Choosing 1.1 million people who used specific social media network, Sinan Aral and Christos Nicolaides of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, U.S., used fitness-tracking devices to monitor their running information over five years.

The work suggests that running is contagious-at least, in an online social network setting. They found that exercise truly is socially contagious - in general, we are inspired by the workout patterns we observe in other people in our social networks. "When a run was completed, it was immediately digitally shared with friends of the runner".

"On the same day, on average, an additional kilometer run by friends can inspire someone to run an additional three-tenths of a kilometer and an additional ten minutes run by friends can inspire someone to run three minutes longer", the authors wrote. On top of that, the researcher added, men were found to be influenced by both other men and women, while women are only influenced by other women.

Historically, in the context of exercise, a debate exists about whether we make upward comparisons to those performing better than ourselves or downward comparisons to those performing worse than ourselves. "Couch potatoes influence marathoners more than marathoners influence couch potatoes", Aral said. The results showed that if they saw their friend had run an extra kilometre, that would motivate them to go a third of a kilometre further next time they went on a run.

To avoid these pitfalls, the researchers only looked at relationships between runners who lived in different cities. Men were affected by both their male and female friends, but more so by their male friends.

  • Joanne Flowers