Many Canadians find it hard to get motivated to exercise and a new study suggests competition works far better than friendly support to get them to do it.
“Our goal was to see how people’s online relationships affected their exercise behaviour,” says David Centola, associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.Listen
Competitive spirit kicked in
He and other researchers divided people into separate groups and gave them an exercise program. In one group, people exercised alone. Those in a second group were provided a leader board, which showed how everyone was doing. A third group was provided a social network where people could talk to each other about their exercise, encourage each other and even meet.
The results surprised Centola. In the group with access to a leader board, people felt competitive and strove to do as well as the top performers. They dramatically increased the amount of exercise they did.
Commiserating lead to ‘a downward spiral’
Those with the social network did the poorest of all, with exercise levels falling off dramatically. “The explanation is pretty interesting,” says Centola. “People paid attention to the people who exercised the least. So, what ended up happening was that is that people who were the least active were basically giving the others an excuse to also be less active… So you got kind of a downward spiral.”
The study concludes: Be careful how you use social media when trying to motivate people to exercise or do other things like recycle or vote. Centola says it’s best to provide a competitive model and to show people how the top performers are doing rather than to let them commiserate with the poorest performers.