10 Ways to Cultivate Social Support for Exercise
- Intentionally seek several types of social support. Meet a friend for a walk once a week, take a water fitness class twice a week, post your workouts on a fitness networking website, read fitness-oriented books, magazines, or other resources, and review your exercise log with someone every few weeks.
- Tap into existing social networks — friends, family, work, school, faith community, neighborhood— to find exercise buddies and people who will support your efforts to be active.
- Infuse your social life with physical activity: hiking, dancing, recreational sports, camping, sightseeing, travelling, etc.
- Share your goals with family and friends and ask for specific types of support — like inquiring about your daily workout, weekly phone calls, sending encouraging texts or e-mails, pitching in with household responsibilities, or meeting you for a fitness class.
- Explore online fitness communities.
- Join a group fitness class.
- Participate in small-group personal training sessions.
- Invite a trusted friend or family member to help you evaluate your progress.
- Foster friendships with active people — better yet, people interested in the same activities or who have fitness goals that are similar to yours.
- Train for a fun run, walk, bike ride or multi-sport event with a team.
by Beth Shepard, , M.S., ACE-CPT, ACSM-RCEP, Wellcoaches Certified Wellness Coach
Whether you’re just getting started with a walking program or preparing for a triathlon, getting your friends and family into the game may be just what you need to take your training to the next level.
Working out with a friend isn’t a new idea — but it’s a tried and true way to stay on track. Knowing that someone is expecting you to show up for a swim or a class keeps you accountable — and that alone may be enough to get you out the door. Many people simply have more fun when exercising with a pal — they enjoy a friendly visit while working up a good sweat.
But what if you prefer a little solitude? What if your schedule makes it difficult to meet up with someone for a walk? Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to garner the benefits of social support for an active lifestyle — and there’s no evidence that one type of support is more effective than the others.
Social Support Your Way
Studies show that social support can take many forms, and usually falls into one of four types:
- Emotional support. Encouragement and acceptance — whether it’s in-person, on the phone, or online — provides emotional support. Receiving this type of support is a key benefit of participating in a group fitness class, joining a bicycling club, or working with a certified personal trainer individually or in a small group setting. Multiple studies show that for both men and women, emotional support for exercise is one of the strongest predictors of exercise adherence.
- Instrumental support. Getting a ride to the gym or having someone watch your kids while you exercise are examples of this practical, tangible type of support.
- Information support. Health care professionals, certified personal trainers, sport-specific magazines and reliable websites (such as ACE’s GetFit site) are all sources of information support — helping you separate facts from hype and learn what you need to know to optimize your physical activity plan. But you can also get information support from informal advice, suggestions, or tips from people with experience in working towards fitness goals that are similar to yours.
- Appraisal support. No matter what your fitness objective, periodically evaluating your progress is essential to make sure you’re on track. What’s working well — and what’s not? What changes are needed to boost your performance? When someone assists you in taking an objective look at your training, you receive appraisal support.
Hang With Active People
A recent study out of the University of Georgia reveals that people tend to mimic the behavior of others around them. Subjects experienced a greater level of self-control when surrounded by others with strong self-control. And the opposite was also true — subjects showed poor self-control when others around them did. The effect of role modeling was so strong that even when subjects simply thought about someone with strong or poor self-control, their behavior followed suit. Researchers concluded that self control — or lack of it — is contagious. The bottom line? If you’re serious about leading an active, healthy lifestyle, foster friendships with like-minded people — and select a workout partner who shows a strong commitment to achieving personal fitness goals.
Activate Your Social Life
But it’s not all about making your workouts more social — it also involves making your social life more physically active. Meet friends for a bike ride or a pickup basketball game instead of dinner and a movie. Invite another family to join yours on a trip to the zoo, a day hike, or an art walk. Host a neighborhood pickleball tournament or geocaching adventure. Weaving physical activity into the fabric of your friendships makes living an active lifestyle more fun — and more sustainable.
Having a strong social network has been linked in multiple studies to reduced health risks, better quality of life, and even longevity. Leverage the power of social support to improve your training and increase your odds of sticking with it. Set yourself up for success by discovering the types of support that work best for you —keeping in mind that your needs may change as you transition through different life stages. With a little effort, you’ll build a net of support to catch you when you stumble — and cheer you on every step of the way.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Community Guide, Behavioral and Social Approaches to Increase Physical Activity: Social Support Interventions in Community Settings http://www.thecommunityguide.org/pa/behavioral-social/community.html
Kahn E, Ramsey L, Brownson R, Health G, et. al., The Effectiveness of Interventions to Increase Physical Activity – A Systematic Review, Task Force on Community Preventive Services, Am J Prev Med 2002;22(4S): 73-107 http://thecommunityguide.org/pa/pa-ajpm-evrev.pdf
UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention , Increasing Social Support for Physical Activity, , October 2008
University of Georgia (2010, January 18). Self-control, and lack of self-control, is contagious. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 17, 2010 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100113172359.htm
Vrazel J, Saunders R, Wilcox S, An Overview and Proposed Framework of Social-Environmental Influences on the Physical Activity Behavior of Women, Am J Health Prom, 2008