It’s no secret: It’s much easier to reach health goals when friends, family, and co-workers have favorable attitudes toward exercise, sensible eating, etc. Many research studies seem to prove the “social contagion” theory, which posits that folks in our social circle heavily influence our behaviors. It’s like our grandparents always said: “Birds of a feather flock together.”

One researcher, Nicholas Christakis, has tracked how traits — such as obesity and smoking — spread from individual to individual through vast social networks. It isn’t even just intimates who can influence you; a friend three times removed can have an impact, too. In this Ted Talk, he explains how contagion takes place, and how to use the phenomena to your advantage.

Of course that’s not to say that peer pressure is that only thing driving our actions when it comes to healthy habits. Making a personal decision to cycle to work or eat a plant-based diet, say, is possible even if all those around you have a love affair with the automobile and the Bar-B-Q. But it’s easier to take care of your health when you see good examples around.

What if you don’t have those good examples to support you? Here are some options, then:

1. Be the one to set a good example at home.

If your family members have turned into couch potatoes, suggest you all get out of the house and exercise together. Get a family membership to a gym and go a few times a week. Even if mama is on the elliptical and papa is in the pool and sis is on the weight machines, you can still cheer each other on toward your fitness goals.

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2. Be the one to set a good example at work.

Help co-workers identify their motivation to get healthy. Some will be concerned about living longer, others with looking better, and still others with improving painful conditions, such as bad backs. Then set up a competition between units or floors or randomly assigned teams. Games are an effective way to add fun and camaraderie to what’s usually an onerous task: Replacing poor habits with healthy ones.

3.Connect with folks at an in-person health program.

Your workplace may already have a wellness program with an on-site gym, pool, and fitness trainers. Or maybe they provide limited resources, such as Weight Watchers, TOPS, or Overeaters Anonymous meetings. Take advantage of appealing health activities offered at your workplace or in your community.

4.Connect with folks online at a healthy-living social media site.

One such site,, offers both free and paid levels of service. There are many forums for healthcare professionals, including these two:

Nurses on the LOSE: “Code of Ethics~5. The nurse owes the same duties to self as to others…… Nurses joining together to support and encourage one another to make healthier choices for ourselves and those around us.” (2571 members.)

Night Shift Nurses: “Nurses working night shift & struggling to care for themselves the way they care for their clients & family. Balancing & embracing school, work, life & health.” (977 members.)

Do you influence others toward healthy living? Or find yourself being influenced? Please let us know.

Jebra Turner is a freelance health writer in Portland, Oregon. You can visit her onine at

Jebra Turner
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