Inspired living

Get competitive to exercise more

Side view of a muscular couple doing planking exercises

Credit: 123RF

Purity is a rare thing, just ask the next alchemist that you meet. Yes, purity is a rare commodity on the natural world, and it is even rarer in the human psyche. Take exercise, for instance. Even though you know it is good for you, it is hard to motivate yourself to exercise just for the pure health benefits. In fact, a new study has shown that people are more likely to exercise when there is competition involved.

In the new study, subjects agreed to take part in an 11-week exercise program. As part of the program, subjects were given access to fitness classes, fitness mentoring and nutrition advice. After the study finished, there were prizes for the subjects who completed the most classes in modalities including yoga, running, weight lifting and spinning (bikes). What the subjects did not know is that they had been assigned to one of four groups: individual competition, team support, team competition and a control group.

One group (the individual competition group) could see leaderboards listing anonymous program members and earned prizes based on their own class attendance. In each of the team groups, the subjects were assigned to a unit. Those in the team support group were allowed to make contact online with their team members and awards went to the team that achieved the best class attendances. The team competition group could also see a leaderboard showing the teams and their standings. Those in the control group did not see a leaderboard and their prizes were based on individual attendances.

When it comes to exercise, rather than a nice supportive group, what you need is some hard-core, base-level competitiveness.

Both the individual and team competitive groups, where they saw a leaderboard, attended about 90 per cent more classes than the control group. Subjects in the team competition group attended an average of 38.5 classes per week, those in the individual competition group attended 35.7 classes and the control group attended only 20.3. The most surprising thing was that the team support group attended a meagre average of 16.8 classes per week. The researchers think it might be that supportive groups can backfire because they draw attention to the less active members, thus initiating a downward spiral in participation (or perhaps this group spent too much time admiring each other’s posts of their latest mocha-latte?). Competitive groups, however, become based around goal setting based on the activity level of the most active members. This gives people higher expectations of their own performance.

So, when it comes to exercise, rather than a nice supportive group who will cater to each other’s emotional needs, what you need is some hard-core, base-level competitiveness.

It just goes to show: sometimes purity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Source: Preventive Medicine Reports


Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.