The Social Element to Running

A recent study done by researchers at the MIT Sloane School of Management has found that runners do influence each other in their training and workout routines, according to the New York Times. Researchers collected data on 1.1 million runners around the world who had collectively run almost 225 million miles over five years. Intuitively, we predicted that friends tend to have similar running routines day to day, over time, even in different geographic locations. But we have to consider correlation versus causation: do friends influence each other's’ running habits or do people choose running friends with similar habits?


The study found that runners do influence each other by pushing each other to run more. For instance, if a person ran 10 more minutes than usual on a given day, his or her friends would also increase the amount of time they ran by several minutes, even in the case of inclement weather (the MIT researchers also collected weather data for the five years that the runners were monitored.) In a running network, male runners seemed to be influenced by both their male and female friends, but female runners seemed to be almost exclusively influenced by their female friends. These trends could point to habits that form during young adulthood or even sooner when we respond to social cues within our friend groups, especially with respect to athleticism or body image.


Running is an ideal activity to collect data on because of its integration with devices that track activity and distance. Running can also easily be a social activity: we often run with buddies or engage in friendly competition with friends to increase stamina. More importantly, running is a sport that is often more accessible than other sports. As we continue to examine the influence friends play in forming healthy habits, we should also ask ourselves how we can use studies like this to help build healthy habits for our students.

Setting Good Activity Goals

Today we’re continuing our segment on technology and our efforts to be less sedentary. In trying to be more physically active, it’s often most effective to set goals and work towards them each day. Goals can be individual ones or benchmarks for groups of friends or family members. But how do we set goals that work best for us?


A popular goal for daily physical activity is 10,000 steps per day. It’s become a catchphrase for the makers of exercise gadgets and wearable technology, but the number “10K a day” is not one that has a lot of scientific research behind it. In fact, a recent New York Times article says that a better goal might be 15,000 steps per day. Studies that arrive at approximate numbers like these often look at certain populations at a time - the study described in this article looked at postal-service walkers, many of whom were older and walked a lot each day. Also, the benefits of this sort of exercise look at health conditions that often do not manifest themselves until later in life (e.g. risk of heart disease).


Universal goals like these numbers only offer a simplistic approach to quantifying adequate exercise. (15,000 steps a day is apparently the equivalent of walking briskly for two hours at a 4mph pace.) What does this number mean for children who often need to be very active, but also must spend hours sitting at school each day in class? And even among children, different individuals have different needs or circumstances that might make walking 15, 000 a day a tricky goal.


Future research could have real potential for impact if it looks at what ideal exercise for children looks like. Federal guidelines already recommend brisk activity nearly every day for young children, but since many children and teenagers are eager to take advantage of new technology to monitor their activity, researchers should investigate what activity levels are ideal and safe for these users.