Social Networks Can Motivate People to Exercise More

Can the web make people more fit?

It’s a question hot on the minds of everyone from health insurers to gym owners to public health officials. Although millions of dollars a year are being spent designing promotional ads and social media campaigns, they clearly aren’t working: more than 43 percent of Americans get insufficient levels of daily exercise, and nearly a third are obese.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, led by professor Damon Centola of the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, have found a way to make the Web — and social media — more effective for improving people’s exercise habits.

The study, recently published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports, tested a fitness motivator that can be more effective — and vastly cheaper — than promotional advertisements: program-assigned “health buddies.”

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