Here's an Easy Trick to Motivate Yourself Toward Regular Exercise

Advertisements for fitness gear tend to showcase the athletically gifted: Serena Williams smashes a tennis ball in Nike sneakers; Michael Phelps trains for the Olympics in Under Armour gear; Usain Bolt chugs a bottle of yellow Gatorade. The message is clear enough: Emulate these athletes. But that marketing tactic might be flawed. According to a new study in Nature Communications, people are more motivated by those who are in worse shape than them, not those who are in better shape. The study as a whole looked at how sharing workout data influences people's fitness achievements. By combing through five years of data from more than 1 million runners, the researchers determined that sharing personal fitness data over social networks (like running apps and trackers) pushed people to run faster and farther. Exercise is a "social contagion," as they called it, and clueing peers into your fitness regime is a huge motivator.

And about those peers. Runners who swapped information with less fit peers got the biggest boost of peer-driven inspiration. In other words, comparing yourself to better runners isn't as motivational as trying to stay ahead of (i.e. feeling superior to) worse runners—though both were effective. Another interesting finding was that men were motivated by both men and women to exercise harder, but women were only motivated by other women. Sharing information via social networks is almost second nature to many, and athletes are already inclined towards healthy competition (literally). All said, it's a pretty easy measure to take to get a better workout, as long as you have friends who are worse at it than you.