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Your Friends Are a Predictor of Your Health

Your Friends Are a Predictor of Your Health

Health is a focus for many and there are different aspects from what we put into our bodies to how well we keep them moving.  And there are precise ways to measure these things, providing detailed data and insight into how our bodies are functioning.

Some wear health tracking devices that measure resting heart rate, quality of sleep and other classic indicators of physical health.  We analyze the data, express glee when the 10,000 steps celebration buzzes on our wrist and reflect back on our heart rates during tense moments.  It’s fascinating, useful and for many maintains a sense of well being to have this data available with such ease.

According to a recent study by the PLOS Journal (Public Library of Science), there is another indicator of health not related to a gadget but rather your social circle. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame looked at what the structure of social networks says about the state of health, happiness and stress, specifically what the position in the person’s social network predicts about health and well being.

“What we found was the social network structure provides a significant improvement in predictability of wellness states of an individual over just using the data derived from wearables, like the number of steps or heart rate,” said Nitesh V. Chawla, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications and a lead author of the study.

Participants in the study wore Fitbits to capture health behavior data and completed surveys and self-assessments about their feelings of stress and happiness.  It was found that social network structure provided significant improvement in predicting one’s health and well being compared to data from the Fitbit alone.

Research has repeatedly shown that emotional and physical health are inextricably linked and this is an interesting tie-in to previous research confirming the health benefits of friendships:

  • increased immunity
  • less stress
  • improved sense of self
  • increased happiness
  • help getting through life challenges traumas
  • life extension

It’s important to note that recent studies have also shown that social isolation is up.

“One’s social life matters above and beyond what we already know about the ‘quick fixes'” of diet and exercise on health, said Yang Claire Yang, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who studies the physiological effects of social ties.

Also, isolation and loneliness seems to significantly raise a person’s risk of cardiovascular issues and is associated with higher risks for first time heart attacks and strokes.

The take away is the importance of focusing on the whole when it comes to your health.  The physiology and functioning of your body is clearly relevant but your social connectivity and felt sense of place in your closer circles are also integral in your overall emotional, physical and psychological health.

Put time and energy into quality friendships.  If you currently don’t have many friends, put time and energy into making new ones while you track your health with your gadget!

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of with emotional and relationship health articles, guides, courses and other tools for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in,, and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers Emotional Health and Relationship Consultations via email, phone or video conference.