I wondered why being the Foursquare mayor of your workout space is a powerful motivator for some people, even in the absence of significant monetary gain or other incentives. A professional opinion was definitely in order so I asked Joe Shrand, a Harvard psychiatrist who is head of the Castle High Point Treatment Center outside Boston.
"You are not only a mayor you are the monarch of your machine, a winner," he said. "That means you are valuable, which is what we all really want."
Shrand says that a push from social media can be a healthy form of competition. On the personal side, you create a sense of accountability; on the public side, you channel feelings that might otherwise manifest as anger, frustration or aggression into something productive and goal oriented.
Not everyone is up for a heated rivalry over what is essentially thin air, but it does have applications in the real world. "It's not all that different than the competitiveness required to get into a good college, get a promotion or win at sports," he noted.
I'm beginning to think social media can be more than just a trendy way of oversharing darling pictures of your kids or your high score on Farmville. It can be an inexpensive and effective tool for improving your health. You can let everyone know about your efforts by writing a blog, posting your workouts on Facebook or tweeting them out in 140-character sound bites on Twitter. If you've friended and followed the right folks, you'll get valuable feedback.
You can also subscribe to Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to be in the know about the latest fitness offerings including sign ups, discounts and giveaways. Opinion aggregator sites like Yelp give you the skinny on the best gyms to join and the best classes to take. Bargain hunting sites like Groupon and Travel Zoo turn you on to all sorts of fitness opportunities you never knew existed.
How else would you find out about cool new options such as SkyZone, a nationally franchised trampoline facility that offers jump classes on Groupon for six bucks?
I think this is all great but you can get carried away. For example, I admit I flirted briefly with the idea of usurping Alderette's Chelsea Piers mayorship. But then I remembered she lives right across the street from the Piers and that, ironically, although I am not too lazy to work out like a demon every day, I am far too lazy to take the train to a gym ever.
Alderette also seems like a pretty nice person. Why sweat on her parade? So, for now, her title is safe. Unless I decide to move into her neighborhood ...