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Are Exercise Habits Contagious?

Posted Mar 01 2010 12:00am

A few days ago, I found this article in the Vancouver Province: “Are exercise habits contagious?” And I just thought it was a fantastic topic for discussion. I’d been considering writing an article about the power of close motivation or the use of a workout partner, so what better time?

The article states that new research has unveiled that the lifestyles and habits of our friends have more impact in our lives than previously thought: lifestyle habits are more prevalent and uniform within close social circles. By this logic, therefore, our friends have a huge impact on our fitness choices.

“In other words, someone who exercises regularly influences those around him to do the same, who in turn influence their friends to exercise and so on. So if your friend goes to the gym, the probability increases significantly that you will eventually do the same. And while the response was the greatest between close friends, friends of friends and even friends of their friends also have the potential to be influenced by a change in behaviour.”

Now there is a powerful idea to consider. By making healthy choices for ourselves, we may be able to instigate a larger chain reaction that expands to various levels of our social group? What excellent motivation! But, do we believe the theory?

The newly coined term for this phenomenon is “social contagion” which implies that behaviour is contagious.

When starting a diet or exercise plan, it is always beneficial to start with someone else. The exercise partner is a fantastic tool for motivation, discipline, and if nothing else, to know that someone is just as sore as you are. Its much easier to push yourself to go running if you know that someone is waiting for you, easier to say no to that piece of chocolate if someone is there to watch you. Workout partners are also perfect for inciting some healthy competition. When working out with someone who surpasses you, you are pushed to improve, and catch up with them.

However, what about when it is not planned? When your friend is not your workout buddy, merely someone in your life that is making changes for themselves? Do we, or can we, still reap the benefits of motivation by association?

My opinion? Absolutely.

Since I became interested in fitness and started my journey towards a fitter me, I have converted nearly 20 people to Beachbody and P90X, and a few more to simply exercise. I have helped put together workout and meal plans; my advice has been requested more times than I can count. (And I love this, being able to encourage others!) This change has also provided the catalyst in changing my entire household and family. My brother has just started Insanity, and my parents are quite eager to get started with P90X. Not only that, but the food in the house is dramatically healthier as well. No longer are there flats of soda and bags of chips no, that nasty junk food has been tossed aside for protein bars and more fresh fruits and vegetables!

However, I think the most telling evidence that I have to confirm the social contagion of physical exercise is what happens in my university classes. The first day of any class is inevitably somewhat awkward, especially if you do not know anyone in your class. This situation has lead me to make many new acquaintances, and just as many cherished friends. But to the point when I am sitting next to someone I have never met, and we get to talking for a class or two, my fitness habits usually end up in discussion. Either by choice, or by what I’m eating, or what I’m surfing on the net when I really should be taking notes. And within a short period of time after this, they’ll be telling me that they’ve started to go back to the gym, or have taken up running, or are considering a gym membership. And they are thrilled to tell me this too, because they know that I will appreciate it! And it happens so regularly, that it is no mere coincidence.

However, the change of exercise habits can also be faced with a negative response. As stated in the article,

“If a group of buddies are all couch potatoes and one of them decides to exercise, the others in the group will find 100 ways to put the guy off and sabotage his routine”

Unfortunately, this is also true. Whether out of jealousy, or resistance to change, there will be people who will root for you to fail. Some will go out of their way to discourage you, and sabotage what you do. Personally, when my friends take on a new endeavor, or try to succeed or improve at something, I’m very happy for them, and want cheer them on! But for some reason, there seems to be a lingering fear of change that can’t always be shaken. To this end, it is crucial not to let yourself fall victim to this sort of negative behaviour. That is not to say to disregard your friends and make new ones, but finding a like minded individual to help support your goals is always a nice addition to life. Do not let others make your decisions for you!

In conclusion: What we do with our fitness habits can benefit more than just us. Perhaps its time to actively acknowledge this and use it to the benefit of others. Work hard, and others will work hard with you!

Friends don’t let friends sit on the couch“… I really liked this!

Questions of the Day:

  • Has your healthy behaviour in any way influenced others around you to change their ways?
  • Have you been met with sabotage or resistance? How did you overcome it?
  • Because I really want to know:  Has my behaviour  or advice in any way encouraged, motivated, or influenced you?

Write in! Let me know! (By the way I want to thank everyone who has been commenting on this blog, I really love hearing from you!)

P.S – Wordpress does not like my Canadian spelling. TOO BAD.

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