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Stanford Medicine

Health and Fitness

Examining how your friends influence your health

As you consider what resolutions to adopt in the New Year, you might consider inviting a friend, or group of friends, with a similar fitness level and body type to share the experience. New research shows you might be more successful in attaining your goal.

In the study published in Science (subscription required), researchers randomly assigned 710 participants from online fitness program to work with volunteers in social networking communities. Some of the volunteers were placed into “clustered communities” where they were connected with six health buddies, who had a similar body mass index, age and gender. Others were placed into “non-clustered communities” with participants who didn’t necessary share any traits. Each volunteer received a personalized “health dashboard” displaying his or her own health behaviors and those adopted by buddies. Additionally, researchers created a situation where subjects had to decide if they wanted to use an online diet diary. Notifications were sent out telling volunteers if their health buddies had adopted the behavior. CNN reports:

Researchers found that three times more participants in clustered social networks adopted healthy behaviors from the diary than their counterparts in the unstructured networks did.

Relative to their study population sizes, a greater percentage of obese participants chose to adopt the diet diary in the clustered networks compared to non-obese volunteers. And not a single obese participant in the unstructured networks signed up for the diary. Generally speaking, the clustered networks greatly increased the likelihood of adopting the diary, especially among the less physically fit volunteers, according to the study.

Previously: Can good friends help you live longer?, How social networks might affect your health and New research confirms connection between loneliness, poor health
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