Is Running the Newest Social Disease?

BY Courtney Huckabay

"Can our workouts be shaped by what our friends do?" Gretchen Reynolds asked in The New York Times. "That question is at the heart of an important new study of exercise behavior, one of the first to use so-​called big data culled from a large-​scale, global social network of workout routines."

"The researchers focused on running, because so many of the network participants were runners. And what they found suggests that whether and how much we exercise can depend to a surprising extent on our responses to other people’s training."

Gyms and running clubs can use the social appeal of running to attract members. The new AudienceSCAN study revealed 13% of adults enjoy running and jogging.

"The researchers decided that they should also consider weather. Bad weather can dampen enthusiasm for exercise, the researchers reasoned, so if someone heads out in rotten weather on a day when friends elsewhere have run, the soggy runner presumably has been influenced by what his or her friends had been up to."

"The results clearly showed that runners do influence one another, the scientists found. Over all, if one person ran for about 10 minutes more than usual on any given day, that runner’s friends would lengthen their workout by approximately three minutes, even if the weather was discouraging. Similarly, if a friend ran faster than usual, his or her friends would tend to pick up their pace in their runs that same day."

Developing a social app for runners could prove fruitful for trainers, gyms and even running footwear/​clothing retailers. The new AudienceSCAN survey found 44.5% of Runners use iPhones, and are 44% more likely than average Americans to share good experiences on social media.

"The effects were most pronounced, the researchers found, if one runner previously had been just a little slower or less in shape than a friend but now showed signs of overtaking a friend’s performance. The threat of falling behind would prod that friend to run a bit harder."

'Gender also mattered. Men generally ran faster or longer if their male virtual friends had done likewise and also if their female friends had, although not to the same extent. But female runners seemed unaffected by male network friends. They altered their training routines almost exclusively in response to changes among their female friends."

Fitness gurus can promote their social running apps on TV. According to new AudienceSCAN research, 42% of Runners took action after seeing commercials in the past month.

"In aggregate, these results indicate that, with caveats, “running can be socially contagious,” says Sinan Aral, a management professor at M.I.T. who led the study. The impacts “go beyond correlation to causation,” he says. “In general, if you run more, it is likely that you can cause your friends to run more.” But the findings apply only to people who already are runners, he adds, since the data he and his colleagues used described runners."

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.