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Can other people help me change? Week three of four: competition and support.

What does competition mean to you? By this we don’t mean competitive dieting when people strive to lose more every week than others, often at the risk of their health.

A little bit of friendly competition can do wonders for your health related focus as long as you keep weight or body measurements out of the contest. Challenging a friend to eat 5-8 pieces of fruit and veg every day, get to the gym 4 times a week, stay off the beer or train for a race can be a great incentive for both of you to manage your goals.

The benefits of competitive encouragement in exercise were measured in a trial in 2014 at The University of Pennsylvania by Centola and Jingwen Zhang, Ph.D. where researchers split participants into four groups to find out how different social networks would influence their exercise.

The four groups included:

1. individual competition where participants saw their place within anonymous exercise leaderboards, earning prizes based on their own success while attending classes,

2. team support where they could chat online and encourage team members to exercise, with rewards going to the teams with the most class attendance,

3. team competition, where they had the online support plus a leaderboard of other teams and their team standing.

4. a control group where they could use the website and go to any class, but were not given any social connections on the website; prizes in this group were based on individual success taking classes.

They discovered that attendance rates were 90% higher in the team competition group than the control group. If you are inspired by friendly rivalry then put this to the test.

You don’t even have to find a friend, there are lots of smart phone apps designed to exploit our competitive spirit against people all over the world. Check out Strava or Runmates. Whether you’re challenging your next door neighbour or a complete stranger, your 30 minute treadmill session will provide the same calorie burn. Many of these apps use this method to encourage you to maintain your new routine.

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