The people in your social circle are probably key players in your weekend plans, but did you know who you spend time with could also affect your health? Research shows that if you regularly dine with people who eat healthy, you may be more likely to opt for wholesome, plant-based foods yourself. And if your friends like to work out together, you’re more likely to exercise too. In fact, research shows healthy behaviors like eating well and physical activity may actually be contagious.
While the adage, “birds of a feather flock together” may be true, the person-to-person transfer of healthy habits is more than that, says Art Markman, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, and author of Smart Thinking. “ Research suggests people will adopt the goals of the folks around them,” he explains. “So, if you hang out with other people who exercise or eat healthy meals, that will increase your own tendency to do the same.”
Why do social circles have so much influence? Find out below and then start taking steps to surround yourself with people who support your health and fitness goals.
4 Ways Having a Healthy Social Circle Can Help You Hit Your Goals
1. They let you know you’re not alone. “Some people are particularly motivated by knowing that there are other people out there who are dealing with the same issues they are,” says Markman. “For those individuals, the sense that they are not alone can help them to move forward with their goals.”
2. They make change fun. “Research suggests the people who stick with wellness and fitness goals longest are the ones who enjoy the activities associated with those goals,” says Markman. If you’re not one of those people, being a part of a group can help you bridge that gap. “Even if you don’t love the exercise itself, you still may look forward to spending time with the group,” says Markman. “Similarly, it can be difficult to change eating habits, but if you enjoy the people you prepare food with or eat meals with, then that can make the eating experience more enjoyable.”
3. They provide encouragement. “It can be easy to share a personal best, but you most need social support when you’re struggling,” says Markman. “Perhaps you haven’t exercised in a week or had too much to eat over the weekend. Other people can help to energize you when you lack internal motivation.”
4. They hold you accountable. “It’s often easier to give up on a virtuous behavior when you’re alone than when there is someone else paying attention to your actions,” says Markman. Even if you only engage in a fitness behavior early on because others are watching, eventually the good behavior may become a habit that you can maintain on your own, he says.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.