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How the people closest to you make you sick or healthy?

If there is one thing, I’ve learned over the years in working with thousands of patients, it’s this; healthy or unhealthy behaviors are contagious. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed this. The study evaluated a densely interconnected social network of 12,067 people assessed repeatedly from 1971 to 2003 as part of the Framingham Heart Study. They found groups of obese persons (body-mass index > 30) who were present in the network at all time points. A person's chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if he or she had a friend who became obese in each time period. Among pairs of adult siblings, if one sibling became obese, the chance that the other would become obese increased by 40%. If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse would become obese increased by 37%. These effects were not seen among neighbors in the immediate geographic location because we don’t usually associate with our neighbors as we do with our friends or family. A person of the same sex had a greater influence on each other than those of the opposite sex.

Your behaviors stem from your beliefs and your beliefs stem from your values. Your circle of influence (the 5-10 people you spend the most time with) shape your values. I notice that the people in my circle of influence tend to be healthier than the average American. Why? Because health is one of the most important values in my life. I unconsciously and consciously choose to hang out with people who value healthy behaviors and make me a better person. This shouldn’t be a surprise, it’s just common sense. We become like the people we hang out with the most. The critical thing to consider is who is influencing whom? Values are choices, they're shaped by our experience in life. My wife has been the single most positive influence in my life which is why I've chosen to hang out with her now for 27 years.

Recently I was at a conference and saw a good friend of mine who looked different. He had gone through some health challenges in the past couple of years but this time he looked great. He wasn’t suffering from his health challenge (back pain) anymore, his skin looked clear, he was more focused, and I noticed he was looking stronger and lost weight through his mid-section. When I questioned him, he told me that he had committed to a program called "75 Hard". 75 days of no alcohol, 2 daily 45-minute workouts (one outside), following a specific diet, reading 10 pages of non-fiction a day and drinking a gallon of water a day (128 ounces). He never once said “you should do this” to me. But I realized he had made a profound change in his health. I was sitting next to one of my good friends at this seminar and said, “Mike looks amazing, you want to do this with me?”. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Now there are 4 of us doing the 75 Hard Challenge. I’m a week 3 of the program and I have already noticed a profound change in my body (I’m the lightest I’ve been since in 5 years), and in my mind (I'm more focused, clear-headed, and I feel like I’m in control of my choices).

The point is that people closest to us influence us, and we influence people closest to us. What are your behaviors unconsciously saying to others? I often tell people that the motto that steers and guides my life is “who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you say”. Behavior and action speak louder to others than rhetoric and words. So, take a good look at the people you chose to spend the most time with because you are most likely going to become like them within 5 years. Don’t believe me, write down the 5-10 people you spend the most time with. Do they look like you? Act like you? Exercise or eat like you? Are Republicans or Democrats like you? Have the same problems that you have? Have similar situations that you have (good marriages, bad marriages)? Have similar financial problems or similar incomes?

The key here is AWARENESS. Chose to hang out with people that will inspire you to better choices in life. When you make better choices over time, you form better habits. Better habits lead to a better and happier life. The people in your boat are doing 1 of 3 things: their rowing in your direction, not rowing at all, or drilling holes in your boat when you're not looking.

Best in Health,

Dr. Dane

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