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Study shows physical exercise is socially contagious

Physical exercise and not just bad habits can be socially contagious, a major new study has found.

For the study, titled Exercise contagion in a global social network, which was published by Nature Communications, researchers Christos Nicolaides from the University of Cyprus, and Sinan Aral from the MIT school of management, analysed data from approximately 1.1m people from around the world who ran over 350m kilometres over a span of five years.

“Previous studies have shown that aspects of our lifestyle and health, such as smoking, over-consumption of food which leads to obesity, and optimism, which brings happiness, are socially contagious,” a statement by the University of Cyprus said. “This means that if your friend smokes or consumes unhealthy food or is optimistic, you risk doing the same. The new research adds physical activity to this list.”

The study which combined data from fitness trackers and data analysis from social networks, showed that how fast and how much people run depended to a large extent on what their friends did.

Its contagiousness varies with the relative activity of and gender relationships between friends. The study concluded that while men are affected both by male and female friends, women are only affected by other women and not by men.

Runners are more influenced by peers whose performance is slightly worse, but not far worse, than their own, as well as by those who perform slightly better, but not far better, than they do. Moreover, less active runners influence more active runners more than more active runners influence less active runners.

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