Infecting Others With Good Health

Reviewed Apr 30, 2016

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Summary

  • The company you keep affects your health.
  • Encourage a friend to join you in making changes to improve your health.
  • Model good health habits for others.

Is good health contagious? The short answer is a definite “yes.” Research confirms that our modifiable health behaviors—which include diet, exercise, sleep, recreation, relaxation, etc.—are influenced by the habits and behavior of our friends, spouse, and family members.

Researcher Nicholas Christakis has studied and reported on the effects of social networks on people’s health. Christakis found, for example, that obesity is socially contagious—meaning that people tend to develop the same eating and exercise habits as their friends and family members.

His research showed that a person had an increased chance of becoming obese if those closest to her were obese. The risk increased by 57 percent if a friend was obese, 40 percent if a sibling was obese, and 37 percent if a spouse was obese. Because obesity is an excellent barometer of overall health and highly correlated with serious, life-shortening disease (diabetes, heart disease, orthopedic injury, liver disease) the health impact is tremendous.

Health benefits of friends and family

When people marry, their habits (healthy and unhealthy) become more alike. The obvious reason is lifestyle. Married people spend more time together, doing similar things. So, their interests, diet, and activities usually begin to merge. Bottom line—the habits and hang-ups of one spouse have a dramatic effect on the other.

A recent article in Psychology Today revealed that if one spouse quits smoking, the other is six to eight times more likely to quit as well. Similar correlations were also found in other behaviors such as alcohol use and activity levels.

Having close, dependable friends has far-reaching benefits for your physical and mental health, according to research at the Mayo Clinic. (In fact, for women, the correlation between friendship and health appears to be even stronger.) Why? Because good friends have similar interests, enjoy being together, and provide comfort and support in difficult times.

Assessing your sphere of health influence

If our closest relationships have the most influence on our health, it would make good sense to ask:

  • Are my health habits having a positive or negative effect on my family and friends?
  • Which unhealthy habits of mine are influencing others?
  • Which unhealthy habits of others are influencing my health choices?
  • Who has the most influence on my health habits?
  • What one thing would I like to change regarding the health habits of someone close to me?
  • What health habits would I change in myself if I had the support and encouragement of someone close to me?

If you are like most North Americans, you don’t exercise or sleep nearly enough, you overeat, and you weigh too much. Moreover, you are painfully aware of these truths but have lacked the desire or perhaps the motivation to change. Perhaps you associate with a lot of people just like you. Obviously, you are not alone. So, to improve your health, you might try to associate with more health-minded people. Or you could invite a friend, spouse, or family member to join you in making a healthy lifestyle change.

Some ideas to get you started

  • Talk with your spouse, a friend, or a family member about your health concerns. Ask: What health habit would you like to see me change?
  • Ask your spouse, friend, or neighbor if he is willing to begin making some lifestyle changes with you. For example, you might take a brisk walk together three to four times per week.
  • Join a fitness center with your spouse or friend and commit to going at least three times per week, for three months. Then reward yourselves with a special night out.
  • Make a deal with your spouse to replace an unhealthy food choice with a healthy one. “We will give up ice cream for dessert and have fresh fruit instead.”
  • If you haven’t been in a while, see your doctor for a routine physical exam and blood work. Knowing your cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and body mass index may motivate you to make serious lifestyle changes.
  • Ask a co-worker to walk with you during lunch or go to the fitness center after work.
  • If you have children, initiate healthy activities such as bike riding, swimming, or playing catch.
  • Make some family rules to limit television watching. As a parent, you must lead by example.
  • Plan recreational activities such as hiking or canoeing for your next vacation or long weekend away.
  • Learn to play tennis or golf (or choose another activity) with your spouse and enjoy your times together.
  • Encourage others who are trying to make healthier choices.

The evidence is clear: The company we keep influences our health. Making healthier lifestyle choices may start by associating with healthier people.

By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
Source: "Social Influence in Health." Thomas A. Wills, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, National Cancer Institute, http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/BRP/constructs/social_influence/index.html; N.A. Christakis. (2004) "Social Networks and Collateral Health Effects Have Been Ignored in Medical Care and Clinical Trials, But Need to Be Studied," British Medical Journal, 329:184-185.; N.A. Christakis and J. Fowler. (2007) "The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network Over 32 Years," The New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 357(4):370-379. "In Sickness and in Health," by Rebecca Webber. Psychology Today. November/December 2008.

Summary

  • The company you keep affects your health.
  • Encourage a friend to join you in making changes to improve your health.
  • Model good health habits for others.

Is good health contagious? The short answer is a definite “yes.” Research confirms that our modifiable health behaviors—which include diet, exercise, sleep, recreation, relaxation, etc.—are influenced by the habits and behavior of our friends, spouse, and family members.

Researcher Nicholas Christakis has studied and reported on the effects of social networks on people’s health. Christakis found, for example, that obesity is socially contagious—meaning that people tend to develop the same eating and exercise habits as their friends and family members.

His research showed that a person had an increased chance of becoming obese if those closest to her were obese. The risk increased by 57 percent if a friend was obese, 40 percent if a sibling was obese, and 37 percent if a spouse was obese. Because obesity is an excellent barometer of overall health and highly correlated with serious, life-shortening disease (diabetes, heart disease, orthopedic injury, liver disease) the health impact is tremendous.

Health benefits of friends and family

When people marry, their habits (healthy and unhealthy) become more alike. The obvious reason is lifestyle. Married people spend more time together, doing similar things. So, their interests, diet, and activities usually begin to merge. Bottom line—the habits and hang-ups of one spouse have a dramatic effect on the other.

A recent article in Psychology Today revealed that if one spouse quits smoking, the other is six to eight times more likely to quit as well. Similar correlations were also found in other behaviors such as alcohol use and activity levels.

Having close, dependable friends has far-reaching benefits for your physical and mental health, according to research at the Mayo Clinic. (In fact, for women, the correlation between friendship and health appears to be even stronger.) Why? Because good friends have similar interests, enjoy being together, and provide comfort and support in difficult times.

Assessing your sphere of health influence

If our closest relationships have the most influence on our health, it would make good sense to ask:

  • Are my health habits having a positive or negative effect on my family and friends?
  • Which unhealthy habits of mine are influencing others?
  • Which unhealthy habits of others are influencing my health choices?
  • Who has the most influence on my health habits?
  • What one thing would I like to change regarding the health habits of someone close to me?
  • What health habits would I change in myself if I had the support and encouragement of someone close to me?

If you are like most North Americans, you don’t exercise or sleep nearly enough, you overeat, and you weigh too much. Moreover, you are painfully aware of these truths but have lacked the desire or perhaps the motivation to change. Perhaps you associate with a lot of people just like you. Obviously, you are not alone. So, to improve your health, you might try to associate with more health-minded people. Or you could invite a friend, spouse, or family member to join you in making a healthy lifestyle change.

Some ideas to get you started

  • Talk with your spouse, a friend, or a family member about your health concerns. Ask: What health habit would you like to see me change?
  • Ask your spouse, friend, or neighbor if he is willing to begin making some lifestyle changes with you. For example, you might take a brisk walk together three to four times per week.
  • Join a fitness center with your spouse or friend and commit to going at least three times per week, for three months. Then reward yourselves with a special night out.
  • Make a deal with your spouse to replace an unhealthy food choice with a healthy one. “We will give up ice cream for dessert and have fresh fruit instead.”
  • If you haven’t been in a while, see your doctor for a routine physical exam and blood work. Knowing your cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and body mass index may motivate you to make serious lifestyle changes.
  • Ask a co-worker to walk with you during lunch or go to the fitness center after work.
  • If you have children, initiate healthy activities such as bike riding, swimming, or playing catch.
  • Make some family rules to limit television watching. As a parent, you must lead by example.
  • Plan recreational activities such as hiking or canoeing for your next vacation or long weekend away.
  • Learn to play tennis or golf (or choose another activity) with your spouse and enjoy your times together.
  • Encourage others who are trying to make healthier choices.

The evidence is clear: The company we keep influences our health. Making healthier lifestyle choices may start by associating with healthier people.

By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
Source: "Social Influence in Health." Thomas A. Wills, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, National Cancer Institute, http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/BRP/constructs/social_influence/index.html; N.A. Christakis. (2004) "Social Networks and Collateral Health Effects Have Been Ignored in Medical Care and Clinical Trials, But Need to Be Studied," British Medical Journal, 329:184-185.; N.A. Christakis and J. Fowler. (2007) "The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network Over 32 Years," The New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 357(4):370-379. "In Sickness and in Health," by Rebecca Webber. Psychology Today. November/December 2008.

Summary

  • The company you keep affects your health.
  • Encourage a friend to join you in making changes to improve your health.
  • Model good health habits for others.

Is good health contagious? The short answer is a definite “yes.” Research confirms that our modifiable health behaviors—which include diet, exercise, sleep, recreation, relaxation, etc.—are influenced by the habits and behavior of our friends, spouse, and family members.

Researcher Nicholas Christakis has studied and reported on the effects of social networks on people’s health. Christakis found, for example, that obesity is socially contagious—meaning that people tend to develop the same eating and exercise habits as their friends and family members.

His research showed that a person had an increased chance of becoming obese if those closest to her were obese. The risk increased by 57 percent if a friend was obese, 40 percent if a sibling was obese, and 37 percent if a spouse was obese. Because obesity is an excellent barometer of overall health and highly correlated with serious, life-shortening disease (diabetes, heart disease, orthopedic injury, liver disease) the health impact is tremendous.

Health benefits of friends and family

When people marry, their habits (healthy and unhealthy) become more alike. The obvious reason is lifestyle. Married people spend more time together, doing similar things. So, their interests, diet, and activities usually begin to merge. Bottom line—the habits and hang-ups of one spouse have a dramatic effect on the other.

A recent article in Psychology Today revealed that if one spouse quits smoking, the other is six to eight times more likely to quit as well. Similar correlations were also found in other behaviors such as alcohol use and activity levels.

Having close, dependable friends has far-reaching benefits for your physical and mental health, according to research at the Mayo Clinic. (In fact, for women, the correlation between friendship and health appears to be even stronger.) Why? Because good friends have similar interests, enjoy being together, and provide comfort and support in difficult times.

Assessing your sphere of health influence

If our closest relationships have the most influence on our health, it would make good sense to ask:

  • Are my health habits having a positive or negative effect on my family and friends?
  • Which unhealthy habits of mine are influencing others?
  • Which unhealthy habits of others are influencing my health choices?
  • Who has the most influence on my health habits?
  • What one thing would I like to change regarding the health habits of someone close to me?
  • What health habits would I change in myself if I had the support and encouragement of someone close to me?

If you are like most North Americans, you don’t exercise or sleep nearly enough, you overeat, and you weigh too much. Moreover, you are painfully aware of these truths but have lacked the desire or perhaps the motivation to change. Perhaps you associate with a lot of people just like you. Obviously, you are not alone. So, to improve your health, you might try to associate with more health-minded people. Or you could invite a friend, spouse, or family member to join you in making a healthy lifestyle change.

Some ideas to get you started

  • Talk with your spouse, a friend, or a family member about your health concerns. Ask: What health habit would you like to see me change?
  • Ask your spouse, friend, or neighbor if he is willing to begin making some lifestyle changes with you. For example, you might take a brisk walk together three to four times per week.
  • Join a fitness center with your spouse or friend and commit to going at least three times per week, for three months. Then reward yourselves with a special night out.
  • Make a deal with your spouse to replace an unhealthy food choice with a healthy one. “We will give up ice cream for dessert and have fresh fruit instead.”
  • If you haven’t been in a while, see your doctor for a routine physical exam and blood work. Knowing your cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and body mass index may motivate you to make serious lifestyle changes.
  • Ask a co-worker to walk with you during lunch or go to the fitness center after work.
  • If you have children, initiate healthy activities such as bike riding, swimming, or playing catch.
  • Make some family rules to limit television watching. As a parent, you must lead by example.
  • Plan recreational activities such as hiking or canoeing for your next vacation or long weekend away.
  • Learn to play tennis or golf (or choose another activity) with your spouse and enjoy your times together.
  • Encourage others who are trying to make healthier choices.

The evidence is clear: The company we keep influences our health. Making healthier lifestyle choices may start by associating with healthier people.

By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
Source: "Social Influence in Health." Thomas A. Wills, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, National Cancer Institute, http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/BRP/constructs/social_influence/index.html; N.A. Christakis. (2004) "Social Networks and Collateral Health Effects Have Been Ignored in Medical Care and Clinical Trials, But Need to Be Studied," British Medical Journal, 329:184-185.; N.A. Christakis and J. Fowler. (2007) "The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network Over 32 Years," The New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 357(4):370-379. "In Sickness and in Health," by Rebecca Webber. Psychology Today. November/December 2008.

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