The people we surround ourselves with, even friends of friends, strongly influence our health.

Research from the Framingham Heart Study shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So, just as your mother might have told you in high school, you are who you hang out with! That’s why it’s important to cultivate strong friendships that support your healthy behaviors.

The Blue Zones Project Power 9, a cross-cultural distillation of the best health practices found in longevity hotspots around the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives, shows that people in these Blue Zones have thoroughly integrated this behavior.

Blue Zones Project communities have repeatedly demonstrated that having a strong connection to faith, friends, and family helps the world’s longest-living people favorably shape their health behaviors.

Blue Zones area centenarians prioritize social support like they do their work, scheduling social time with friends on a regular basis, while enjoying healthy drinks, snacks, and movement.

Scientific research supports Blue Zones Project Power-9 principles. We like what Dr. Eric Hochman, of Gulfshore Concierge Medicine in Florida, wrote about the importance of social health in an article now posted on, excerpted here.

Brigham Young University researchers have studied the extent to which social relations and interactions influence illness. A large meta-analysis of almost 150 studies found that social isolation may be one of the biggest impacts on human mortality.

Being isolated may be as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, as dangerous as being an alcoholic, as dangerous as never exercising, and twice as dangerous as being obese.

The importance of having a socially active lifestyle is well known and universally accepted. But to take this one step further, being a part of a supportive social network may be even more important. For most of us, change is difficult.

In order to make a significant and impactful change in our lifestyle, we need motivation, encouragement, and support, and a strong desire to be successful. Associating with the appropriate social circles can foster successful accomplishment of these goals.

Harvard physician and social scientist Nicholas Christakis and University of California-San Diego political science professor James Fowler have written, “Social networks have value precisely because they can help us to achieve what we could not achieve on our own.”

These authors go on to state that, “Students with studious roommates become more studious. Diners sitting next to heavy eaters eat more food. Homeowners with neighbors who garden, wind up with manicured lawns. And this simple tendency for one person to influence another has tremendous consequences.”

Social connections also seem to affect physical fitness. Scott Carrell of the University of California-Davis studied United States Air Force Academy students and found that “each out-of-shape individual creates two additional out-of-shape individuals through their social interactions.” The well-known Framingham Health Study found that the heavier in weight our close friends and family, the heavier we are likely to be.

A person’s chances of becoming obese increases by 57 percent if he or she has a friend who becomes obese.

The Framingham Heart Study also demonstrated that smoking cessation by a spouse decreases a person’s chances of smoking by 67 percent.

The people we associate with can have a powerful effect on our behavior — for better or for worse. In order to live healthier and longer, we all need to maintain strong social networks.

And by choosing to engage in networks that support healthier lifestyles, we will give ourselves the best opportunity to achieve our full genetic potential.

Juliete Palenshus is the engagement lead for Blue Zones Project. She has served as a champion for health and well-being in previous roles as executive director of nonprofit UC-VEG, with the Community Advisory Council of the Umpqua Health Alliance and in food policy work.

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Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

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