Imagine your best friends. What words do you use to describe them? How do you explain how important they are in your life? Without them, who could you go to to share your problems?
Needless to say, we share a lot of things with our best friends. It’s their presence that, whether we realize it or not, makes our days both easier and happier.
In an article entitled “From Social Integration to Health: Durkheim in the New Millennium” by Lisa F. Berkman, Thomas Glass, Ian Brissette and Teresa E. Seeman, it was discovered that, through friendship, we can actually gain social support from “the amount of love and caring, sympathy and understanding and/or esteem or value available from others.”
Furthermore, friendship aids in forming a sense of social influence that allows friends to affect each other. This includes their health behaviors such as obesity.
Today, the CDC reports on its website that “more than one-third (34.9 percent or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.”
Looking at the relationship between friendship and health behaviors, in a book titled Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, it stated simply: “Obesity is contagious. If your best friend gets fat, your risk of gaining weight goes up.” Similarly, in a Framingham heart study, it was found that the probability of becoming obese increases by 57 percent if your best friends are obese.
What is the happening can then be explained with some behavioral theories. We are sharing a lot of things such as meals and interests with our best friends. We are participating in almost the same physical activities and hobbies. In turn, we are influencing each other without even noticing.
Each of us has our own “ritual” when it comes to spending time with our best friend. This type of activity could include talking in their bedroom with your favorite snacks close by or going to a café and spending the morning eating great food. However, those kinds of interactions affect our health-related behaviors and ultimately affect our health status.
Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean that if our best friend is obese, we should find a new best friend. Best friends are hard to come by and it’s important to keep them for as long as possible. However, participating in healthier behaviors is crucial to keeping you and your friendship alive and well. It will not be easy, but with your best friend by your side, it can be a whole lot of fun.
The best way to break the cycle is by changing the usual “ritual” you have with your best friend and substituting it for something different and more challenging than simply sitting around and talking. Instead of going to a café or watching a movie, go hiking or walking through a park together. If you like cooking, try a new, healthier menu. Finding healthy food without forfeiting the taste can transform anyone’s weekend.
If those options don’t do it for you, it is always great to make weight loss a game. By challenging your friend to a competition, you are both finding ways to support each other and a healthier lifestyle. In the same sense, setting goals alongside a best friend who is also working to accomplish said goals provides a motivating partner to both beat and work-out with.
In the end, the most important thing is that we are lucky enough to have our best friends to do this with. We have each other’s social support and that will make adopting a healthier lifestyle easier than doing it alone. By reminding each other to stay healthy and have fun, both friends can gain all the benefits. That is one of the reasons we have best friends, isn’t it?