Fit By Association
If you're interested in getting fit, there is probably a lot of things you've considered doing. However, there is one thing which you have almost certainly not thought of: spending time with people who are fitter than you! Can you really become fit by association? According to a new study (called Is Poor Fitness Contagious?, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2010), the answer is yes, kind of.
Your Fitness Level Reflects That Of Your Peers
In order to determine how social and environmental factors influence fitness, the study focused on 3,323 U.S. Air Force Academy students who were randomly assigned to social networks based on their residences. The results suggest that poor fitness does tend to spread through social circles and that the most noticeable changes are caused by those who are the least fit. One surprising result of the study is that if half of the people in a subject's immediate social circle were out of shape, that person was three times as likely to become out of shape himself. The researchers estimated that, through interactions in their social circle, out of shape people end up making two other people out of shape. While it's a provocative and controversial idea, the study does seem to show that obesity is contagious, in a sense spreading from one person to another through social interactions.
The findings of the study also suggest that factors like high calorie diets, a lack of exercise, and other lifestyle habits which affect obesity and fitness spread quickly through social circles and magnify their effect in a given individual. While it isn't entirely clear why it is that poor fitness seems to spread from one acquaintance to another, the evidence is now that it does happen, with the biggest effect being caused by the least fit. It also seems that people who are struggling to get or stay fit are at the most risk. In short, if your friends are unfit, the odds are that you will be, as well.
We often tend to pick up habits from our friends and it appears that bad habits are easier to acquire than good ones. Even so, there may be an upside to the phenomenon demonstrated by of this study. As we've seen, good fitness habits tend to be transferred from the least fit to the most fit. Thus, if you want to become more fit, it is probably helpful to spend more time with people who are in better shape than you are if you are. It is the power of social influence, to which we are apparently more susceptible than we like to think. If the study can be believed, then you may want to either avoid your unhealthy friends, hire a personal trainer who you admire enough for him or her to be an influence on you, or ask your fittest friends to start spending some time on treadmills with you working out.
If nothing else, start spending more time at the gym working out; having other people around you who are trying to improve their own health and fitness can be inspirational. By surrounding yourself with fit people, their healthy habits, motivation, and fitness will rub off. Better still, your own dedication to getting fit may help inspire people around you to do the same. Surround yourself with fitness!
By Robert Braun
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