Can Adding The Element Of Competition Help You Exercise Regularly?
Even when the doctor exhorts us to stay physically active, and family members are encouraging, some of us are constantly hampered by a lack of interest in exercise.
Interestingly, workout encouragement from people worried about our glucose levels may erode our exercise motivation, instead of boost it. A recent study done at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that competition is a much stronger incentive for exercise than supportive pep talks.
The Spur of Rivalry
The study involved 800 graduate and professional students. They were enrolled in weekly exercise classes, received fitness mentoring, and nutrition counseling managed via a website created by the researchers. Unknown to the study participants, they had been divided into four groups:
- Individual competition: the participants viewed the progress of anonymous members on leader-boards, and earned prizes based on class attendance.
- Team support: the participants were assigned to a workout unit that chatted online for encouragement; rewards went to units with the best class attendance.
- Team competition: the same as team support, except the participants had access to a leader-board showing each unit’s progress.
- Control group: individual participants used the website and could go to any exercise class, but were not socially connected; rewards were based on class attendance.
After 11 weeks, it was clear to the investigators that competition was the prime participant motivator. Attendance rates were a whopping 90 percent higher in the individual and team competitive groups than in the control group. However, even the control group had significantly better class attendance than the team support group.
“In a competitive setting, each person’s activity raises the bar for everyone else,” said researcher Damen Centola. “Social support can make people more dependent on receiving messages, which can change the focus of the program,” added lead study author Jingwen Zhang, Ph.D.
Lighting The Inner Fire
Whether this research has any practical application for those of us struggling at home to maintain an exercise regimen will take some experimentation on our part.
For instance, a group of friends who need to exercise might set up a competition where each keeps track of their time spent working out. After 12 weeks, the person with the most workout hours takes home the prize everyone pitched-in to buy. We could also put our sibling rivalry to work. If each brother or sister involved uses a pedometer, or a digital tracking device, the first to log 100 miles walking can expect the other, or others, to cook the winner a dinner, or clean out their garage.
Another option is to join a recreational volleyball, softball, or basketball team that regularly competes for fun and exercise. Camaraderie and the group’s competitive spirit can be motivating rewards in themselves. Sports such as tennis, and racquetball may stir competitive juices in those who prefer individual sports, and there might be tournaments available at different skill levels.
Sometimes we have to try different exercise approaches before finding one that consistently pries us off the couch. The University of Pennsylvania study suggests that for many of us, adding the element of competition can stir us into action—and will be far more effective than friendly support from others.
Source: Science Daily