Of all the ways you may have considered to get fit, here is one you have probably overlooked. How about simply associating with people who are in better shape than you are? This could be called “Fit by Association” A new study shows the way.
This intriguing new study shows that social and environmental factors may be stronger on a person’s fitness than previously assumed. Specifically, it may be the fitness of the people in our social networks that has the strongest influence on our own fitness level. Carrell, Hoekstra, and West studied 3,323 students at the U.S. Air Force Academy. These subjects were randomly assigned to residential social networks to examine the role of such networks in shaping their physical fitness. The study, “Is Poor Fitness Contagious?,” was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in November 2010.
The results of the study indicate that poor fitness does indeed spread between people, with the largest changes caused by those people who are the least physically fit. The study found that if half of a subject’s friends became out-of-shape, the probability of that subject’s failing the basic fitness requirements tripled!. The researchers estimated that each out-of-shape person creates two additional out-of-shape people through their social interactions! This supports the provocative idea that obesity spreads on a person-to-person basis. Such a multiplier effect suggests that those things that negatively affect the health and fitness of one person, such as a sedentary life style or high calorie diet, can multiply quickly throughout the entire population.
So it seems that low levels of fitness can not only be transmitted friend to friend, but that the strongest effects on others are provided by those with the lowest fitness levels. The implication is that those most at risk from exposure to unfit friends are those who themselves struggle with fitness. People whose friends are in poor shape are more likely to be in poor shape themselves. It seems that it is easier to adopt your friends’ poor habits than it is to adopt their good habits.
However, this potentially negative finding has a positive side. Since the transference of good fitness habits flows in the direction of the least fit to the most fit, you should be able to boost your fitness simply by hanging around with people in better shape that you! Perhaps more significantly, the study does not show that you need fit friends to get fit. It simply shows that the strength of social influence includes fitness and that unfit friends can reduce your fitness level. The simplest way to mine the nugget of the study would be to avoid unfit friends. Even better, use a personal trainer who you like. Or get that fit friend of yours to go treadmilling with you. You could even put posters of fit people you would like to know on your walls. Maybe just spend more time at the gym around fit people. Even if you don’t become close friends with them, just being around them may be enough to adjust your expectations for yourself on a subconscious level.
Surround yourself with fitness. It will rub off on you, and then, perhaps, even better, it will rub off of you and onto others.