Networking for a Healthier Lifestyle

By Nicole Freeman

I have always considered myself a private person, someone who is not prone to sharing intimate secrets, whether it’s with a small group of friends or – heaven forbid – at one of those group therapy sessions. Similarly, I tend to steer clear of people who make a habit of pouring out their innermost thoughts. “TMI” is my credo, whether I’m referring to myself or anyone around me.

However, I do believe that friends can be influential, and the behavior of the people that are close to us can have a profound impact on how we conduct our lives. The Framingham Heart Study has found that our likelihood of becoming obese increases 57 percent if we have an obese friend, and we are 50 percent more likely to drink heavily if a friend is a heavy drinker. Luckily, such influences work both ways: if a friend quits smoking, we are 36 percent more likely to quit smoking ourselves.

It comes as no surprise then to learn that people participating in health and weight loss programs within a team environment have increased both their levels of engagement and the results achieved. Groups tend to motivate participants through encouragement and competition. After all, who wants to be the first person to drop out of a group activity, or be the one to admit to a lack of willpower?

But how do we find a group that’s going to motivate us? Not many people are going to qualify for NBC’s The Biggest Loser and those employee wellness groups tend to produce spotty results at best. Enter social media, the virtual teammate that can both stimulate and inspire!

While I religiously follow my TMI rules on Facebook and other social networks, I have no problem in sharing some successes and failures with my online inner circle. If my daughter wins an award at school, I like to share her achievement, and if my son’s soccer team wins a tournament, then he gets a shout out too. And I’m careful to make it a two-way street, sharing in the highs and lows of my friends and family.

So it’s not surprising than health and fitness companies have quickly latched onto the power of social media as both a motivator and a way to keep people engaged. From weight-loss programs to activity trackers to stop-smoking apps, developers are encouraging us to share our stories, drawing strength from like-minded individuals who know exactly what we’re going through.

Of course, the smartphone revolution is at the heart of this new trend of collective ambition. Loading our phones with fitness apps creates a culture of health, and 24/7 access to our friends and peer groups ensures our support networks are always there when we need them.

So sign me up for those alerts, likes and leaderboards. When it comes to losing a few extra pounds, I’ll take all the help I can get!

Nicole Freeman is a freelance writer based in Westchester, NY. You can reach her at nicole.freeman@theonlinemom.com.

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