The power of social support: How your friends impact your physique:

How your friends impact your physique
Harnessing the power of social support

By John Berardi, Ph.D.

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Next week, about 20 members of the PN Team – folks who live all over the globe – will be coming together in one place for our annual PN Team meeting. And I’m excited.

Not only do these meetings give us all a great chance to catch up and talk about what’s going on with our daily work.  They also give us a chance to go for group workouts, to dine together, and to pick each other’s brains about important exercise and nutrition-related topics.

Truth be told, I really love the time I spend with this “social network” of mine.

Now, in the past, before I learned about “the power of social networks”, I would have thought of this as “just some people – who share my passion for  health and fitness – getting together to talk shop.”

However, I now realize that the description above doesn’t exactly capture the essence of what’s going on.  Rather, by getting together in this way, we’re actually using one of the most powerful life-altering tools available to us.

The hidden influence of social networks

In the video below, Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a pioneer in the field of health and social networks, talks about the extremely powerful (and virtually hidden) influence that our social network exerts on our actions, attitudes, and  – ultimately – who we become.

He even goes so far as to demonstrate that our own body size (as well as our happiness in life) is strongly influenced by our friends.  Check it out and get prepared to be blown away:

When watching this video even I was amazed at how far-reaching and powerful this social network effect really is.

I mean, I can understand this relationship where if our friends are obese we have a 45% higher chance of being obese ourselves. However, it’s crazy to think that even our friends’ friends – and our friends’ friends’ friends – can impact our likelihood of obesity too.

In addition, it’s really fascinating to me that not only our body size – but our attitudes and actions, even our very own happiness – is part of a collective set of attitudes and actions shared by the people that we know and the people that they know.

Harnessing the power of social support

Now, if you’ve been reading the Precision Nutrition web site for any length of time, you’ve probably heard us talk about this idea of “social support.”

Last year we published a research review here on our site looking at patterns of weight gain and obesity in communities (see: Are Your Friends Making You Fat?).  The conclusion: weight gain is contagious.

In addition, through a research project we did a few years back with Dr. Gary Homann, we found that ECI (exercise community involvement) was an important part of forming strong exercise habits and sticking with them over time (see: Long Haul Training).

Obviously Dr. Christakis’ work (discussed in the video above) goes one step further in showing strong relationships between the attitudes and actions of our network and our own – all the while displaying these relationships in elegant and compelling ways.

So, let’s bottom line this.

If the people you spend the most time with are critical in your own growth and development as a person – as well as your own attitude toward everything from the food you eat, to the exercise you choose, to the hobbies you spend your time on – if you want to improve something about yourself, it’s probably important to consider your social network in the equation.

Because, here’s the good news.  If sickness, obesity, and unhappiness are all contagious – so are health, leanness, and happiness.  And by including more healthy, lean, and happy people into your social network, your chances of improving the way you look, feel, and perform will skyrocket.

If you ask me, that’s a pretty cool thing.

[Note: Every time we talk about social support, something interesting happens.  People email us from all over the world, confiding in us that they can’t find those healthy, lean, fit, and happy people in their communities.  If that’s the case for you, you might consider PN Coaching. This program was designed to deliver not only the best training and nutrition advice, but also healthy doses of much-needed social support.]

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