Exercise is socially contagious, shows a paper published in Nature Communications this week. Data from digital fitness tracking devices combined with social network analyses reveal that the running habits of individuals can influence their friends’ running habits.
Although some researchers have suggested that health-related habits, such as obesity and smoking, are contagious, evidence of this social influence has been inconclusive. In this study, Sinan Aral and Christos Nicolaides recorded daily exercise patterns, geographic locations, and social network ties of around 1.1 million people who collectively ran more than 350 million kilometres over five years. Their analyses show that the contagiousness of excercise is dependent on the relative activity and gender relationship between friends. More specifically, they show that while men are influenced by the running patterns of both their male and female friends, women are only influenced by their female friends. Interestingly, less-active runners influence more-active runners, but the reverse is not true. Taken together, these results show that exercise can be socially contagious and reveal the relationships that are most effective at influencing such healthy behaviors.