Health & Wellness

Want to Get Fit? Find a Buddy

An exercise buddy can boost your levels of physical activity and keep you on track, according to a new study

By Katrina Caruso

If you’ve going to finally do something about your New Year’s Resolution to become more active—or your doctor has suggested that you need to start exercising—it might be time to find a friend to do it with you.

According to the results of a US study, exercising with a friend and using a fitness tracker (a wearable device or a smartphone app) makes it more likely that you’ll achieve your goals. The study was conducted by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University School of Medicine, and the results were published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The goal of the study was to find out whether adding elements of game play, such as points to earn or levels to achieve, to a workout routine would help boost the effectiveness of exercise. Over 24 weeks, researchers followed 200 adults from 94 families who used trackers, some of which had game elements incorporated, to count their steps and activity together. Participants who used “gamified” trackers achieved their fitness goals 27% more than those who didn’t.

“By engaging families in an interactive game-based intervention using activity trackers, we found significant increases in physical activity,” said Dr. Joanne Murabito, one of the study’s lead authors.

An important contributor to the positive results was the active presence of others. “Our social connections—family members, friends, and even colleagues—can be powerful motivators, but most programs target individuals instead of leveraging these social networks,” said Dr. Mitesh Patel, another lead author.

It’s easier to fall off the wagon when you do something alone. Doing an activity with someone else feels good, creates a bond, and promotes accountability. As well, you’re less likely to get injured, more likely to push yourself harder or stay at the gym a little longer (who doesn’t love a bit of friendly competition?), and you’ll typically challenge yourself to try new things.

Not sure where to begin?

  • The best way is to set a plan and stick to it. Find a friend who can work out with you twice a week, on specific dates and at specific times, and don’t change those dates and times once you’ve agreed on them.
  • Choose someone who is also serious about making a change in his or her lifestyle. Also, make it someone with a similar work-out style and similar preferences in work-out routine—someone who likes to do what you like to do and the way you do it (if one of you likes to talk, while the other one prefers to work out to Michael Jackson, that’s not going to work well).
  • Set goals and monitor your progress. How many steps have you walked, kilometres have you run, or pounds have you lost? Turn it into a game and use a fitness tracker.

Photo: iStock/kali9.