Hitting the gym, with the help of online social networks

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    (Photo via ShutterStock)

    Having trouble making exercise a habit? Maybe try joining an online social network.

    New research from the University of Pennsylvania suggests simple reminders that other people are working out are more powerful motivators than traditional advertising.

    In the study, scientists recruited about 200 graduate students and offered them free exercise classes for a semester. A third were prodded to attend with videos and messages, while another third were assigned to an ad hoc online social network, and the others were left alone.

    The conventional advertising method initially boosted participation, but the students given the peer network were much more likely to stick with their new routines. By the end of the 13 weeks, those in the network group were working out 1.6 days per week more than at the beginning of the experiment — roughly double the rate of the other groups.

    “Through just recording and distributing people’s basic activities, it creates a self-reinforcing dynamic where people are encouraged by other people’s actions,” said Damon Centola, a professor of communications at Penn’s Annenberg School, and senior author of the study.

    The results were published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports.

    The idea of using social networks to encourage people to get into shape also occurred to Rowan University senior Nick Dennis last year. Together with several recent Rowan graduates, he’s working on creating an app called fitDegree that helps users find nearby gym buddies.

    “The idea is that you could find a different workout partner for any day of the week, depending on what you want to do,” he said. “Any time you have someone constantly pushing you and motivating you, it helps you be better.”

    Dennis and his team won several funding awards from their school and plan to launch the app in time for 2016 New Year’s resolutions.

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