Recent research reveals that to become less sedentary, you may need an active friend.
A new mathematical model incorporates the influence of social interactions on community exercise patterns, implying that connecting with moderately active individuals may motivate sedentary people to become more active. Ensela Mema of Kean University in Union, New Jersey, and associates recently published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.
In order to promote health benefits for various American populations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released evidence-based guidelines in 2018 that outline the recommended kinds and levels of physical exercise. However, patterns at the national population level indicate that there hasn’t been much progress made in meeting these recommendations.
Mema and colleagues used earlier research demonstrating that peer social interactions may significantly increase physical activity within a community to help solve this problem. Based on this understanding, scientists created a mathematical model that replicates how social interactions might impact exercise trends over time in a population. The model incorporates data from the United States Military Academy.
The model simulations showed that, in the absence of social interactions, populations experienced a long-term decrease in physically active individuals, and sedentary behavior began to dominate. However, when the simulations included social interactions between sedentary and moderately active people, sedentary populations became more physically active in the long term. Still, in simulations where moderately active people became more sedentary over time, overall physical activity trends plummeted.
While these simulations were not validated with real-world data, the researchers say they provide new insights that could inform public health efforts to boost community physical activity levels. The researchers outline a number of recommendations for such efforts, such as social activities designed to boost interactions between sedentary and moderately active people.
These simulations could also inform efforts to maintain physical fitness in the U.S. military, the researchers note. However, they say, more research will be needed to better understand the balance between encouraging exercise among sedentary people and retaining activity levels in moderately active people.
The authors add: “We have traditionally directed physical activity interventions by engaging sedentary individuals to become more active. Our model suggests that focusing on the moderately active population to sustain their activity and increasing their interactions with sedentary people could stimulate higher levels of overall physical activity in the population.”
Reference: “Social influences on physical activity for establishing criteria leading to exercise persistence” by Ensela Mema, Everett S. Spain, Corby K. Martin, James O. Hill, R. Drew Sayer, Howard D. McInvale, Lee A. Evans, Nicholas H. Gist, Alexander D. Borowsky and Diana M. Thomas, 19 October 2022, PLOS ONE.