A small study from the University of Aberdine suggests that having an exercise partner helps improve the amount of exercise a person engages in. The research was an attempt to offer some empirical evidence behind what was previously an anecdotally recommended technique that the lead researcher—Dr. Paela Rackow—read about in a pamphlet. Reportedly, the results confirm this effectiveness, and Dr. Rackow also looked into what people felt were good qualities to have in an exercise companion.
The study was performed online over an 8-week period with an undisclosed number of participants. Participants were to report exercise activity and habits, emotional and social support, action planning, and other elements over the study duration. The participants were also divided into two groups: one group was told to find a new exercise partner, while the other was told to continue their normal exercise routine. There were few conditions attached to how a partner could be chosen, which was intended to replicate “natural life” conditions where a person would find a companion from their normal social network.
Not surprisingly, it was observed that the participants who were in the “partner” group showed a greater amount of exercise being performed. Specifically, the level of emotional-social support reported was found to be a predictor of how effective a person would be at self-monitoring, action planning, and exercise levels, among other measurements.
The nature of support was also divided by the researchers into emotional and “instrumental”, which refers to more practical kinds of support like always showing up on time. They found that emotional support and encouragement was a stronger influence than instrumental support.
The study is, of course, not without its flaws. Aside from the reliance on self-reporting, it is extremely vague about how it quantified and measured emotional and social support. Having said that, there is an inherently strong plausibility that a workout buddy is beneficial, so it is still probable that the findings are sound. One thing that would be interesting to know about, however, is if any of the control group already had an exercise partner in their normal exercise routine and, if so, how a direct comparison might have played out.
Rackow, P., et. al., “Received social support and exercising: an intervention study to test the enabling hypothesis,” Health Psychology, 2016; 10.1111/bjhp.12139.
“Want a new body? Get a new ‘buddy’!” University of Aberdeen web site, October 4, 2016; http://www.abdn.ac.uk/news/10032/, last accessed October 4, 2016.