The simple presence of a moderately more capable virtual cycling partner can do wonders for exercise motivation — by as much as 100 percent — when it comes to sticking to a workout program, according to a new study by Michigan State University’s Department of Kinesiology.
For many, lack of motivation is the main obstacle in keeping people from reaching both the recommended amount and intensity of exercise. Using the principles of group exercise, which is known to increase people’s motivation in sticking to an exercise program, the researchers wanted to find out whether a “virtually present” partner would influence a person’s motivation to exercise longer.
The research showed that women who participated in cycling exercises kept going twice as long when working with a virtual partner — results the researchers said can be used to help people meet physical activity recommendations.
“Being able to more than double one’s performance is a substantial gain for those trying to increase their physical activity,” said doctoral student and study author Brandon Irwin. “These results are encouraging and suggest the gains we observed over six hour-long sessions could be sustained on a longer-term program of exercise.”
For the study, 58 women already participating in MSU physical activity courses were recruited to exercise on a stationary bike. They were split into three groups: the first group exercised on their own alongside a virtual person, the second group exercised as a team alongside a virtual person and the third group cycled alone.
At the start, the women in groups one and two were given a “virtually present partner” and were told their partner would be riding at the same time they were, on a similar bike in another lab. The women “met” their partners through a pre-recorded video-chat and were told their partner’s cycling abilities were moderately better than their own.
While exercising, participants watched their partner’s progress through what appeared to be a live feed, but was actually a recording. All students rode a video-game exercise bike for as long as they felt comfortable. They then were asked to rate their intention to exercise again, how well they felt they had done and how tired they were.
Overall, exercising with a virtually present partner improved performance, and the women exercised longer when cycling next to a more capable partner than when exercising alone.
Participants who exercised as part of a team kept going, on average, two minutes longer than those who exercised independently with a partner — 22 versus 20 minutes — and twice as long as those who exercised without a partner — 22 versus 11 minutes.
In terms of motivation, there was a noticeable decline in intent to exercise among those who cycled by themselves. In contrast, those who exercised with a virtual partner had no decline in motivation.
The research is published online in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
Source: Michigan State University