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Want to stop being a couch potato? Get an active friend

The team recommended communities offer social activities designed to boost interactions between sedentary and moderately active people.

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Smiling young African American woman in sportswear doing pushups during an exercise class with a group of friends at the gym
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

By Pol Allingham via SWNS

Couch potatoes need an active friend to get them fitter, according to a new study.

Researchers at Kean University, New Jersey, found sedentary people can be persuaded to up their activity levels by hanging out with a moderately active friend.

The new mathematical model also revealed that the less communities interacted with one another the less active they became in the long term, moving into more sedentary lives instead.

As a result, the researchers called for a new approach to improving activity levels in the population - encourage moderately active people to stay active and spend more time with those who are sedentary.

The US Department of Health and Human Services published evidence-based guidelines recommending different types and amounts of exercise. But so far the national population-level trends show there has been little improvement in meeting the recommendations.

Only about 23% of Americans get enough exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).


To help tackle the issue Professor Ensela Mema, of Kean University, built on previous research that demonstrated social interaction with peers boosted physical activity within a community.

Her team used that knowledge, data from the US Military Academy, to create a mathematical model that simulates how social interactions can affect a community’s exercise trends over a period of time.

Model simulations revealed in the absence of social interactions populations experienced a long-term decrease in how many people exercised, while sedentary behavior took over.

But when sedentary and moderately active people hung out the sedentary portion became more active in the long term.

Nonetheless, when the moderately active group did less exercise over time the overall physical activity trends plummeted.

The simulations published in the journal PLOS ONE were not validated with real-world data, but the researchers say their work could still offer new insights and inform the public health mission to boost community activity levels.

The team recommended communities offer social activities designed to boost interactions between sedentary and moderately active people.

They noted that the US Military could incorporate these ideas to maintain physical fitness among their personnel.

More work needs to be done to investigate the balance between encouraging exercise among sedentary people and maintaining levels of activity in moderate exercisers.

The authors said: “We have traditionally directed physical activity interventions by engaging sedentary individuals to become more active.

“Our model suggests that focusing on the moderately active population to sustain their activity and increasing their interactions with sedentary people could stimulate higher levels of overall physical activity in the population.”

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