Did you gain weight over the holidays? Blame the friends you spent time with, not the food you ate.
Okay, maybe you can blame a few pounds on the food you ate. But a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research of social networks between randomly assigned friends concluded that your unhealthy friends are slowly dragging you down with them.
We have previously explained a lack of fitness within a social network by claiming that people tend to associate with like-minded individuals. But this study focused on residential groups of about 30 in the United State Air Force Academy; the members were randomly assigned and spent the majority of their time together.
The study showed that “individuals appear to either compare their own fitness to the least fit among them, or adopt the diet and exercise of the least fit.”
It’s an easy trap to fall into; your best friend or significant other didn’t feel like getting up this morning to work out either, so missing one day isn’t a huge deal. But then missing your morning workout turns into missing tomorrow’s, too, and you’re going to The Cheesecake Factory tonight.
And these results extend further today than ever, with virtual social networks like Facebook and Twitter keeping you in constant contact with all of your friends and acquaintances. Healthy and unhealthy life choices show up online as easily as they do in person through status and picture updates. That places us at a bigger risk of falling by the wayside, because now even someone as distant as your cousin’s best friend can impact your lifestyle without you even realizing it.
But don’t let these results scare you into cutting out the least fit in your circle. Instead, try to make the biggest difference by encouraging improvement within your social network. And a Facebook weed-out of “friends” you don’t know and will never see again might not hurt, either.