But there are problems with some of the studies on so-called behavioral contagions.
Aral and his colleague's data included the runner's geographic location, social network ties, and daily running patterns, as tracked by wearable fitness devices and running apps. "When a run was completed, it was immediately digitally shared with friends of the runner".
Turns out it's the friends who perform at roughly the same level as you who are more likely to motivate you to exercise - particularly the ones who perform a little bit worse. But more active runners didn't influence less active runners. The data contain the daily distance, duration, pace, and calories burned by the runners, recorded by digital fitness tracking devices.
Researchers have previously looked for evidence of contagiousness within networks of friends for happiness, smoking and obesity but results have varied.
We're told that having an exercise buddy encourages us to work out.
One of the key findings of the data revealed numerous runners often compared themselves to those ahead of themselves to motivate their own self-improvement. Researchers from MIT's Sloan School of Management found that runners connected through a social network influenced each other's training in surprising ways.
In addition, it appeared that most motivations stemmed from good-old fashioned competitiveness: runners wanted to stay ahead of the pack, and strove to do better to make sure they stayed on top. Moreover, not all runners influenced their connections equally, with individuals more likely to up their game in response to increased performance by less active peers than more active ones. Influence among same sex pairs is strong while influence among mixed sex pairs is weaker. They found that exercise truly is socially contagious - in general, we are inspired by the workout patterns we observe in other people in our social networks. Men were motivated by both men and women, whereas, women were only influenced by women.
More information: Sinan Aral et al.