Need motivation to exercise? Your Instagram feed can make working out more enjoyable

NORWAY — Need an extra push to get you into your exercise program? Anyone that’s ever been on a consistent exercise regimen knows that routines can get dull and lose their allure. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have recently demonstrated that social media — Instagram in particular — is an effective tool for motivating people to exercise.

“We wanted to encourage and support people in feeling good about their training,” says senior author Professor Frode Stenseng, of the university’s Department of Education and Lifelong Learning, in a release.

Researchers recruited more than 500 young adults through Facebook and other social media platforms to participate in their study. All participants were actively engaged in some sort of regular exercise routine. Participants completed surveys about their demographics, their exercise habits, how passionate they were about exercise and how much they enjoyed their exercise routines.

Participants were then placed into 2 groups, an intervention group and a control group. The intervention group was instructed to follow an Instagram account called “#DinMotivasjon” (#YourMotivation in English) where researchers posted motivational posts every 3 days over 4 weeks. The posts were written in a way that made participants more aware of their personal motivational drives.

After 4 weeks the participants were asked to fill out the same survey they had completed at the beginning of the experiment. People in the intervention group were also asked about their engagement with the Instagram account to make sure they were reading the motivational posts.

At the end of the 4 week period the participants from both groups were continuing to exercise as frequently as they had been before the experiment began. However, participants from the intervention group felt differently about their routine. They were enjoying it much more.

“Participants who followed the account postings developed more positive feelings related to their training. The other participants didn’t,” says Stenseng.

One of the most important aspects of the intervention is that it’s not very time consuming. Participants in the intervention group report spending no more than a few minutes per month reading the posts.

The researchers comment on how the posts they used in their study are different from motivational posts from famous athletes and other Instagram influencers. Their posts were based on scientific psychological theories: self-determination and passion theory. The posts were designed to give the readers a sense of autonomy — a feeling that they were in control of their exercise choices.

Here is an excerpt from one of the posts:

“Do you exercise because you really want to, or because you feel you have to? Your answer is related to the type of passion you have for your exercise activity. There is a distinction between two types of passion. Harmonious passion is defined as something you can spend time and energy on, without experiencing conflicts with other parts of your life. You feel in control of your need to exercise, even when it is a big part of your life. Obsessive passion, on the other hand, is also characterized by strong commitment to the exercise, but nevertheless, this strong commitment may develop beyond your own control so that your interest for the activity becomes a problem in your life.”

The researchers conclude by highlighting the potential impact of their study. “Several platforms are having a big impact. It’s interesting how some exercise apps promise exercise enjoyment and motivation without having any clear theories for how they want to achieve that. Now our study has shown that theoretical content can have a positive effect, so we should encourage more people in this market to become knowledge-based,” says Berg.

The study is published in Frontiers in Psychology.