Is your friend’s weight gain contagious? Are your unfit friends having a bad influence on you? Read on to find out
A 2010 study at Harvard University found the more obese friends you have, the more likely you are to become obese yourself. If you have four obese chums, your chances are doubled compared to those with no obese friends. One reason is we’re likely to share habits with friends – if they eat a pizza-rich diet, you’re more likely to. But the researchers also theorise that spending time around overweight people shifts our perception of the norm, and piling on the pounds begins to seem more acceptable to us. This applies with a partner as well as friends.
‘It’s true that like attracts like and we’re probably drawn to people with similar habits and weight – but the contagious nature of obesity plays a part too,’ says Dr David Hamilton, author of The Contagious Power Of Thinking (Hay House). ‘If a woman who has grown up on a healthy diet marries a man who has always had an unhealthy diet, they’ll affect each other – either the husband starts eating more healthily, or the wife more unhealthily, or they meet somewhere in the middle.’
Solution: If you want to shed inches, spend time with slim friends. ‘The evidence so far suggests weight loss is also contagious,’ says Hamilton. A 2007 study at the University of Connecticut enrolled overweight people and their spouses onto a weight-loss programme. While only the overweight people were trying to shift pounds, the scientists discovered a ‘ripple effect’, with partners also losing an average of 5lb each. We’re not suggesting you shun overweight friends, but spending time doing healthy pursuits with your fit, trim friends will have a good influence on you.
Just as bad eating habits can spread between partners or among a group of friends, so can levels of activity. If your best friend, colleague or partner is the sedentary type who’d rather slouch in front of the TV than go for a run, you risk catching their habits to some degree. But fortunately, it works the other way too. Strangely – and good news for the naturally couch-potato-esque – even watching someone else exercise can make you stronger and fitter. In a 2007 study at the University di Modena e Reggio Emilia, Italy, volunteers were tested for strength in two groups – one group actually did the exercises, the other group watched. At the end of the sixth training session, the exercise group were 50 per cent stronger. But the group who had merely watched were also 33 per cent stronger!
Solution: Nobody’s suggesting you should swap your workout for a purely observational exercise regime – but the study does imply that watching others exercise while you do the same could lead to larger gains in strength and agility. Similarly, making an effort to take part in activities with fit friends will help you stick to your own exercise goals. Last year, a survey by Diamond Insurance found 61 per cent of women are more likely to work out if they do so with a friend rather than alone, and will also push themselves harder.