Published: Fri, April 21, 2017
Medicine | By Megan Pierce

That annoying runner on your social media feed is deeply influential

That annoying runner on your social media feed is deeply influential

"Couch potatoes influence marathoners more than marathoners influence couch potatoes", Aral said. While men were affected by the running patterns of male and female companions, women were influenced exclusively by their female friends.

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. If those friends burn an extra 10 calories, that person will end up burning 3.5 more calories than usual. If two friends have several mutual connections and one is an avid runner, the other will likely pick up the habit-and probably end up running a bit farther or faster than his or her friend, possibly to stay ahead of the pack.

The effects were more noticeable among certain groups. Influence among same sex pairs is strong while influence among mixed sex pairs is weaker.

Less active runners were also found to have influenced more active runners. Both men and women influence men. Research suggests that hanging out with slimmer pals can help you lose weight; having a lonely relative, neighbor, or friend increases your own risk of loneliness; and happiness spreads among strangers.

The study not only showed that exercise is contagious, but that the contagion breaks down along gender lines. For starters, numerous studies are survey-based and rely on accurate self-reporting, which is something we are notoriously bad at.

In essence, people who individuals perceive to be their closest fitness "peers" - particularly those they think are slightly lower on the totem pole relative to themselves - are most likely to inspire someone to push themselves to the limit.

To avoid these pitfalls, the researchers only looked at relationships between runners who lived in different cities.

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