The Effectiveness of Social Support on Exercise Goals

Informing our friends and family of our resolutions in hope that the social support will encourage us is an effective tactic–as long as these people ‘check-in’ on our progress at semi-regular intervals.

That’s the conclusion from a study where three groups of people had their exercise goals tracked under one of three conditions: a regular phone call from an exercise instructor, a regular automated call from a machine, and a control group receiving no calls.

The results showed that having to report your progress toward a goal drastically increases the amount of effort undertaken–especially when it’s a human checking-in on your progress.

The caller, whether human or computer, asked the participants to recite the amount of exercise they performed during the past week. Participants were then congratulated on any exercise performed, and asked how the level might be increased in the week ahead. When lapses occurred […] the goal was to impress upon participants the importance of resuming the workout as soon as possible. All questions were designed to encourage rather than to scold.

After 12 months, participants receiving calls from a live person were exercising, as a mean, about 178 minutes a week, above government recommendations for 150 minutes a week. That represented a 78% jump from about 100 minutes a week at the start of the study. Exercise levels for the group receiving computerized calls doubled to 157 minutes a week. A control group of participants, who received no phone calls, exercised 118 minutes a week, up 28% from the study’s start. […]

Some studies by other researchers have suggested that after eight weeks of regular exercising many people can settle into a long-term habit of working out.

The article also cites a study on how meeting in groups to discuss exercising goals (group-counseling) showed a quadrupling of exercise levels after three months and an even greater jump at nine months (long after the group-counseling sessions ended in month three). By contrast, “the exercise level of a control group rose during the study period but at nine months had returned to near-baseline levels”.

via Nudge



2 responses to “The Effectiveness of Social Support on Exercise Goals”

  1. Fits in with the idea of all those personal informatics tools. Though, people have been known to game them.

  2. Gaming of personal informatics tools? Now that’s something I didn’t expect to exist.

    It’ll be nice to see personal informatics tools that really utilise this social support. Automatically sharing specific data with friends who also run the application (not necessarily as a game or league, but just information), for example.

    Of course, this no doubt already exists!