When discussing the weekend on Monday morning, are you chatting to your colleagues about the sports you’ve watched, and the time you’ve spent on the couch taking naps and watching series? Or are you thrilled to tell about the amazing mountain bike ride you did, or the run that took you through breathtaking scenery, so much so that they wished they’d been there?
You may want to check what you’re actually talking about. Innocent Monday morning coffee chats could influence health decisions your colleagues make.
In The Conversation, Carol Maher (National Heart Foundation Senior Research Fellow in Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Sleep, at the University of South Australia) explains that there is growing evidence that disease spreads through social networks. According to a US study which followed 12,000 people for 32 years, if you have a close friend who becomes obese, your chances of becoming obese increase by 171%. And your risk of attempting suicide is four times higher if you have a friend who has tried to kill themselves.
So, if social networks can make you sick, can they also make you healthier? It seems they can, even though the health effect seems to be a bit more subtle than the illness effect.
Recent studies have for example shown that quitting smoking spreads through social networks. If your significant other quits you have a 67% decreased chance of smoking!
But couldn’t all this be due to like people attracting like? Scientists have tested this. It seems the effect really is due to the behaviours spreading over time, from key central “nodes” to their social connections. The spread can be seen over up to three degrees of separation, so you can actually influence the friends of your friends’ friends.
Another study has also confirmed the contagious effect of health. In this study, public health scientists delivered a multivitamin supplement program in rural villages in Honduras.
The program was spread using word of mouth, starting with 5% of village residents. In some villages they randomly selected the initial targets, and in other villages they randomly selected individuals, asked them to name a friend, and then these nominated friends became the initial targets.
Uptake of the multivitamins was significantly higher in the villages where the initial targets were the nominated friends. This exploits the “friendship paradox”, that on average, your friends have more friends than you do.
So, are you going to make a change towards healthier habits in your circle, or do you appoint a colleague of friend to drive the change?
Here are a few events that could get you going, to become more active, and to leverage your social network to provide public accountability, opportunities for social support, and friendly rivalry, which are all powerful motivational tools.
Fun guaranteed! Perhaps activity comes second during these events, or at least, you don’t even notice that you’re being active whilst you’re having fun getting painted! There are runs coming up in Bloemfontein, Potchefstroom, and Stellenbosch this February. Visit the Color Run website for more info and registration.
Join the weekly parkrun for a 5km walk or run, taking place throughout South Africa. It’s the perfect event no matter whether you’re fit or have to blow the dust off your tekkies, you can sprint, jog or walk, so bring your colleagues, friends and kids and get out there. Visit the parkrun website to find the event closest to you.
Step it up, and run with people worldwide at the same time! There’s one catch: the Catcher Cars are chasing you, and determine where your race finishes. How far will you get? Join the event in Pretoria, or take part in the selfie run, and raise money to help fund spinal cord injury research projects all over the world.
While writing this blog post, I walked 4459 steps on a treadmill desk