The transportation industry gets bad marks for health. Nearly 85% of North America’s truckers are obese. Many struggle with metabolic syndromes like sleep apnea due to bad dietary habits. Is the fact that most truckers are lone wolves a driving factor behind such poor health? It’s possible. When it comes to developing and (more importantly) keeping up with healthy habits, finding a friend or two who want to build them with you is the best thing to do. That’s the conclusion of a new health study published in the December issue of the journal “Science.”
How much more does it guarantee that you start and stick with a great exercise routine?
Three times as likely, researchers say.
For the study, these researchers created a social network to promote health and fitness to beginners. Broken into small groups of “health
buddies,” 710 participants were introduced to the idea of an online diet diary through a fabricated participant. This “fake member” was a front for the researchers to prompt others on the network to tell them how their routine was working, what their thoughts were, and to build positive behavior patterns.
7 weeks later, those who were matched with health buddies using the principle of “homophily” — the tendency of people to have similar friends — were far more likely to use the diet diary and take part in other healthy behaviors than randomly grouped people. For example – random groupings performed low in nearly all positive behavior patterns like tracking dietary intake. In groups with more homophily, more than 12% of participants struggling with obesity chose to track their dietary intake.
Different Aspects of Homophily Even Gives Similar Results
Humans are social animals by nature. We built civilization by working together. The vast majority of humans feel better about themselves while surrounded by people and communicating with them. So social behavior that’s reinforced by those around us are a particularly strong influence on our motivations. The researchers found that participants performed better when paired with others that had similar:
- Body mass
- Fitness level
- Diet preferences
The behavior reflected more positivity and motivation if two or more of these traits matched. “I think the reality is, we as individuals may have less motivation to change on our own than if we’re surrounded by our peer group, even if we met on a social network site,” said Dr. Victor Fornari, an esteemed psychiatrist at North Shore-LIJ Health Systems in New York.
Group therapy is also partially based on the premise that people can empathize better with others they relate to, said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“The question of whether people can benefit from role models that show how to move out of similar thinking is also part and parcel of the development of social networks,” Manevitz said. “We all need to be able to interact with people who can promote other senses of self, that you can take in and create within yourself.”
Ideally, Dr. Fornari said the findings should spur other statewide or public programs promoting healthy lifestyles either in person or on Internet-based social networks. “Certainly, that would be an exciting opportunity and I know that more and more educational opportunities will be web-based,” Fornari said.
Is this the proof that you needed to finally join that health incentive program that your carrier company offers? We hope so!