According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 69% of Americans 18-24 years of age failed to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity in 2014. Now a new study suggested that the competition might be the key to getting us to workout more.


Generally physical exercise or workout means any bodily activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health and wellness. Physical exercise is performed for various reasons, including increasing growth and development, preventing aging, strengthening muscles and the cardiovascular system, honing athletic skills, weight loss or maintenance, and merely enjoyment. Recurrent and regular physical exercise boosts the immune system and helps prevent "diseases of affluence" such as cardiovascular disease,type-2 diabetes and obesity. It may also help prevent stress and depression,increase quality of sleep and act as a non-pharmaceutical sleep aid to treat diseases such as insomnia, help promote or maintain positive self-esteem,improve mental health, maintain steady digestion and treat constipation and gas, regulate fertility health, and augment an individual's sex appeal or body image, which has been found to be linked with higher levels of self-esteem.

The health benefits of physical exercise

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list several benefits of physical activity. Moderate exercise can help with:

  • Weight control
  • Reducing cardiovascular disease risk
  • Reducing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome risk
  • Reducing risk of some cancers
  • Strengthening bones and muscles
  • Improving mental health and mood
  • Improving ability to do daily activities and prevent falls
  • Increasing chances of a longer life.

Some studies have shown that as little as 92 minutes of moderate exercise per week, or 15 minutes a day, can reduce the risk of all-cause mortality by 14%.


According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 69% of Americans 18-24 years of age failed to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity in 2014.


In the Lancet study from2011, those who exercised as little as 15 minutes a day already had a 3-yearlonger life expectancy.

Every additional 15 minutes of daily exercise beyond the minimum daily amount of 15 minutes further reduced all-cause mortality by 4% and all-cancer mortality by 1%.

The new study on physical exercise

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 69% of Americans 18-24 years of age failed to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity in 2014 and according to WHO about 80%people worldwide failed to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity.

For  the solution of these situation, researchers and governments have tried to uncover key motivators for people to maintain a schedule of physical activity, as well as cost-effective strategies to increase motivation.


Competition motivated participants to exercise overwhelmingly more than social support.


By teaming up with friends and engaging in physical activity routines together is thought to be good for starting a new fitness routine, as the psychological costs of changing behavior are easier to bear in companionship.

Yet how does a social medium affect our motivation? Does a friendly, supportive environment help promote physical activity? Or might competition be more effective?

Competition vs. support in social media

The new research article was published in the journal “Preventative Medicine Reports”, from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania looked at key motivators for exercise in the context of social media. The study was led by Jingwen Zhang, Ph.D.

About 790 graduate students were involved in the study from the University of Pennsylvania who signed up for an 11-weekexercise program called "PennShape." The exercise program consisted of weekly exercise classes that included running, spinning, yoga, and weightlifting.

The new research program also included fitness training and nutrition advice, which were all managed through a website created by the researchers. At the end of the program, those who attended the most classes won rewards and cash prizes.

In order to see how social media affected the participants, researchers divided them into four groups of six persons each: support team, competition team, a combined team with both support and competition, and a control group.

All the groups had access to online leaderboards but for each group, leader boards showed different things.

The competition team could see a leaderboard of how well other teams did. Competition-driven teams were rewarded based on the average number of classes attended. The competition-driven individuals in the combined group could see how well other anonymous program members performed. They also earned prizes based on their class attendance.

In the team support group,participants could chat online and encourage their teammates to exercise. The support group did not know how well other teams performed.

The control group did not know about any social connectivity on the website.

Competition motivated participants to exercise overwhelmingly more than social support. In fact, attendance rates were 90% higher in the competition-motivated group and the combined group, compared with the other two groups that had no competition.



The average attendance rate for the competition group was 35.7, the one for the combined team was 38.5, 20.3 for the control group, and the worst rate belonged to the social support team -with only 16.8.

The social support group had no significant impact on improving the exercise rate. In fact, it might have caused participants to exercise less.

Social networks and competition

New research gives us important information about how to use social media if we want to change behaviors.

"Most people think that when it comes to social media more is better. This study shows that isn't true: When social media is used the wrong way, adding social support to an online health program can backfire and make people less likely to choose healthy behaviors.However, when done right, we found that social media can increase people's fitness dramatically," says Prof. Damon Centola, senior author

The main scientist Prof. Zhang also explains why competition is such a strong motivator:

"Framing the social interaction as a competition can create positive social norms for exercising. Social support can make people more dependent on receiving messages, which can change the focus of the program."

Prof. Damon Centola adds that"supportive groups can backfire because they draw attention to members who are less active, which can create a downward spiral of participation."

In the competitive groups, however,people who exercise the most inspire others to do the same.

"Competitive groups frame relationships in terms of goal-setting by the most active members. These relationships help to motivate exercise because they give people higher expectations for their own levels of performance," says Prof. Centola.

Competition triggers a social ratcheting-up process, he adds:

"In a competitive setting, each person's activity raises the bar for everyone else. Social support is the opposite: a ratcheting-down can happen. If people stop exercising, it gives permission for others to stop, too, and the whole thing can unravel fairly quickly."


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