You’ve probably heard of disease “hotspots” (places where certain diseases are more common), but did you know that scientists have also discovered “cold spots” where chronic disorders like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are rare? What’s particularly surprising is that these exceptionally healthy people often have genetic or environmental factors that should increase–not lower–their risk for these ailments.
Researchers have studied the world’s healthiest people to find out why they live so long and well. One trait they share is belonging to “the right tribe,” social networks that support healthy behavior, reports Blue Zones author Dan Buettner.
Many studies show that both good and bad habits are “contagious.” For example, if one of your friends becomes obese, your risk soars by 57 percent, according to a Harvard study. And if your friends smoke or drink more than they should, you’re more likely to overindulge in the same ways–a pattern that some scientists called “the flocking effect.”
Positive changes are also infectious: If one friend stops smoking, his or her buddies are 37 percent more likely to kick the habit as well. Or if someone close to you starts working out, that could prompt you to hit the gym as well. The company you keep can also influence the quality of your life, your risk for illness, and even your longevity. In fact, the people in your social network influence your health more than almost any other factor.
That’s why surrounding yourself with like-minded people who are committed to wellness can work wonders. Witness the astounding success of the Daniel Plan, a wellness program that harnesses the healing power of small groups to achieve big results.
Developed by Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church, in partnership with my husband and two other doctors–Mehmet Oz and Mark Hyman–it was inspired by the biblical story of Daniel and his three friends, who turned down royal food and wine in favor of vegetables and water. “At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food,” according to Daniel 1:15.
When the Daniel Plan launched in January, 2011, 15,000 people signed up and a year later, they’d shed 250,000 pounds. Those who did the plan together shed twice as much weight as people who did it on their own. Participants also slept better, had more energy, better moods, lower blood pressure, and reduced or even eliminated their need for many medications. Many reversed chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease.
They also discovered that getting healthy is a team effort. As Dr. Hyman described it, “We didn’t treat disease. We didn’t create a weight loss program. We taught people self-care, and combining that with caring for each other they created a small miracle…People helped each other create health.”
Without the right tribe to support me, I couldn’t have achieved what I did. Based on my family history (if you believe that genetics dictate destiny), I should be diabetic, obese, and suffering from heart disease. As I recount in my book, The Omni Diet, I’ve battled severe digestive issues, recurrent infections, and at age 23, thyroid cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes and returned three times, leading to multiple surgeries.
These experiences inspired me to become a warrior for my health. Today, at 44, I’m in the best health of my life and living proof of the miraculous power of a second chance. However, I couldn’t have achieved what I did without my tribe.
Among the ways to harness the healing power of community are these:
- Band together with family, friends, coworkers, or a support group to create a health-enhancing tribe. Research shows that having a strong social network can boost your chances of a long life by up to 50 percent.
- Exercise with buddies. Working out together actually gives you a powerful natural high similar to the joy of dancing or laughing with others, due to a rush of feel-good hormones called endorphins, according to a University of Oxford study.
- Smile–and the world really does smile with you. One study reports that if you’re happy, it even boosts the joy of people with three degrees of separation from you (a friend of your friend’s friend). Following a healthy lifestyle is a great way to feel good about yourself.
- Consider the impact your choices will have on your social network. For example, exercising regularly triples the odds that your friends will do the same–and eating a healthy diet can actually quintuple the likelihood that your friends will emulate your eating habits, studies suggest. As Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Whether it’s creating a business, succeeding in school or creating a nurturing home, the people you surround yourself are likely to have a large impact on the outcome and how much fun you have in the process. I’d like to take a moment to thank the amazing members of my tribe. The Omni Diet is a NY Times Bestseller and The Brain Warrior’s Way Books are extremely successful, with a growing worldwide movement of Brain Warriors! A large part of this success is due to of the amazing team that has been supporting my efforts. As you can see, it takes a village! It’s a good idea to stop now and then and offer your appreciation to your tribe members. Where would you be without them?
If you haven’t done so already, join my Brain Warrior tribe for new recipes, podcasts and blogs in my weekly newsletter to help support you in your journey of healing and wellness. Perhaps you have a friend for whom this would be helpful? Also follow and like my social media channels for daily motivation – check out the links on this page. You can also preview the channels on my community page.
Remember, good health or bad health is contagious! Make sure you’re supported by the right community.