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Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Social Network: Your Greatest Tool for a Healthy Lifestyle?

The idea of a social network means plenty more than how much time you spend on Facebook, following people on Twitter, or updating your Foursquare account -- your social network also carries significance in terms of people's wellness. This week, the Los Angeles Times reported that our health has a great deal to do with the health of those around us.

The effect of peers on our mental and physical wellbeing seems intuitive. After all, people often (or constantly) compare themselves to their friends. Our friends and peer groups motivate and inspire us, and when they're feeling down it often rubs off on us too. The L.A. Times article noted that Weight Watchers serves as an example of this principle: The popular program creates a social group to help users drop pounds.
The article was hesitant to say that friends directly cause each other to be overweight, since those friends might just share the same environmental factors (i.e. a McDonald's is their neighborhood's social hub). But new research definitely finds a strong connection between smokers and drinkers -- if your friends cut back on either habit, the likelihood that you'll cut back increases significantly.

Social networks come in a rich variety these days, since there are not only the traditional home, school, and office networks, but also the new online networks that have taken our internet experience by storm. Now, everyone has access to a social network that can serve as a support group for smoking cessation, workout resolutions, nutritional goals, you name it. Companies have now incorporated social media into their business plans, teaching employees how to use these websites to promote their goods and services. Employees can now apply this social media know-how to their own personal health goals to add an extra boost to the traditional office space peer group.

Of course, there's always the risk that extra time tweeting and Facebooking on the computer would contribute to your "sit time" and take away from activities like going on a lunchtime walk or playing outside with the kids after work. Do you think it's possible to strike a balance?

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