Did you know more than 43 percent of Americans get insufficient levels of exercise every day? That’s why literally millions of dollars are being spent each year to encourage people to move more with initiatives like Let’s Move. But now, a new study from the University of Pennsylvania has pinpointed the one thing that might actually improve your workout habits.
It turns out the secret to keeping up lies in having a posse of “health buddies.” (It may sound corny, but hear us out.) When researchers asked 217 students to enroll in free exercise classes at their gym, they gave half of the subjects a virtual support system comprised of six of their peers. The other half either received motivational messages via e-mail to pump them up for workouts, or just the free membership.
Strength in Numbers
Throughout the 13-week study, each member regular received e-mail updates on their peers’ actions, though everyone’s identity was kept anonymous. When one person signed up for a yoga or strength-training class, the other folks were notified. And they got updates only on the good stuff — not when one of them skipped a class to eat pizza, instead. (Because hey, that definitely happens.)
Results showed that students paired with “health buddies” were the only ones who showed a steady increase in workout attendance (rah-rah messaging and freebie classes alone didn’t do much). “You just have to put people into the right kind of social environment where they can interact with each other. Even anonymous social interaction will create behavior change,” says study author Damon Centola, of Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication and its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
The crazy thing, though, is that the subjects involved in the study didn’t even know each other. So imagine what could happen if you formed a workout group of your actual friends? After all, you don’t want to be the only one who stays at home when all your pals are getting in a quality sweat session together.