According to research performed at the University of Pennsylvania, the power of real-life social networks to help people stick to their fitness goals extends to online networks. In this study, people assigned to an online buddy group actually became more motivated to continue as the study went on, compared to the vanishing motivation in a test group who received encouraging messages without any interactive component.
Behavioral scientists have known for a long time that social networks contribute enormously to our choices about how to live. As society continues to embrace online interactions, fitness is no exception. Websites like NerdFitness and Fitness.com offer a variety of forums where members can share and discuss their progress. Apps like Strava and Runkeeper let you share your workout directly to your personal social media accounts. But just how can these tools help you get fit and stay that way?
People follow through better on their commitments when they feel accountable to others. Social media tools provide a place to make those commitments publicly, and to receive feedback. Research shows that people adopt the behaviors of their peers, both positive and negative. By connecting to social media networks devoted to positive behaviors, people improve their odds of success.
Accountability doesn’t just help motivate you to get out of bed and exercise, it gives you a place to share your challenges and get advice — how to exercise while traveling, for example, or how to cope with an injury.
Social networks encourage behavior change by offering reinforcement — rewards for behavior the group approves and correction for behavior the group frowns upon. A study of profoundly disadvantaged women living with HIV showed how reinforcement from personal social networks can transform education and behavior change. Social media allows users to choose between thousands of possible platforms, each with its own community tone and standards.
You can “lurk,” reading about other people’s accomplishments, or you can compete in structured challenges. You can share your own experience with training programs, injuries and competition, or you can ask other people to share theirs. You can post your workouts online, complete with maps and stats, or you can create your own private group with your friends to compare notes and share encouragement. All these targeted networks reinforce the behavior you’re trying to establish as a habit.
Social media lets people expand their horizons about what is possible. A couch potato may read a post by a marathoner and think, “Hey, I could do that.” A long-time cyclist might read a post by a swimmer and think, “That sounds like fun, think I’ll give it a try.” Social media networks are a great place to encounter new ideas, ask questions, explore new options. Fitness regimens can get boring. Social media platforms offer lots of ways to stay interested and add variety.
One caveat: Social media — like all of our culture — is awash in pictures of slim, healthy, gorgeous bodies. This can be damaging. If you aren’t motivated by such pictures, keep looking until you find a social media fitness network that has more realistic goals.
Every aspect of our culture now has its niche on social media, and fitness is no exception. If you want to increase your motivation and share your fitness journey with like-minded people, social media networks are the perfect choice for you. Local or global, newbie or veteran, there is a virtual fitness community out there waiting for you.
Are you ready to take your fitness routine to the next level? Make social media networks part of your plan. Success is sweeter when it’s shared.