Why Those Exercise Studies Matter

Is running contagious?

The New York Times suggested that recently with their headline “Running May Be Socially Contagious” that accompanied an article describing the results of a study about runners and their social connections. But the truth is this: ANY exercise activity done repeatedly with a group of individuals could be socially contagious.

If you’ve been doing CrossFit, you already knew that. If running is contagious, then CrossFit is an epidemic. Many of us are obsessed about our workouts, our nutrition, our lives. We center our lives around this activity.

So, why the hype about running? Because the study conducted by researchers from M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management used five years of data collected from about 1.1 million runners world-wide, and “suggests that whether and how much we exercise can depend to a surprising extent on our responses to other people’s training.”

Did you just say, “Well, duh” and roll your eyes at these researchers? Yup. That’s how I felt, too.

But when these big studies come out and confirm what we know to be true anecdotally, they’re still important. It’s not just another headline to ignore before we get back to thrusters and pull-ups.

Why? Because societies shift based on anecdotes, but funding and governments shift based on data. They need studies to show what we know to be true: exercise with community has more of a lasting impact than exercise devoid of community. We see this effect in front of our eyes daily with teens at Steve’s Clubs. There’s nothing like the changed life of a kid to tell you something works.

This data proves what we of the barbells-and-sweat crowd already saw in action: if you work out with others, you tend to do more and go more often. Now, what if, based on this kind of data, we can get more companies to pay for gym memberships? Or we can get more funding for equipment at parks and city centers? What if, because of some running studies and the data they generate, your health insurance started to cover your gym membership because it’s preventative health care? That would be awesome, right?

So, while the M.I.T. study only centered on runners, it’s a start. As the article notes, “the findings apply only to people who already are runners … They cannot tell us whether other types of exercise are equally catching or how to make exercise in general more palatable and contagious among inactive people.”

Still, that’s a start. First runners, then the world.

Get your barbells ready.


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