There is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank my parents for growing up learning to love movement. I bet I was a nightmare. Basketball Monday night, Rugby Tuesday and Thursday nights, athletics Wednesday night and Saturday morning, rugby Sunday morning, basketball Sunday afternoon. My parents were the best free taxi drivers ever!!
Movement was not a choice, it was the only thing I knew, it was, and is everything. Along with that was healthy eating habits, I’ve been packing my own lunch every day since I was 7 years old with fruit and vegetables, and a vegemite sandwich of course. Man, I was jealous of the kids with chips and coke back then.
So where am I going with this? The more we learn about genetics, the more we start to realise just how significant the role our environment plays, and has played in our health, our activity levels, our eating habits and our risks of obesity, chronic disease and all-cause mortality. Now while we can’t change our upbringing or habits of the past, we can do things about our future, and it’s not about your genes.
Researchers know about 185 genes that are implicated in obesity, ones that will make you slightly more likely to put on weight or be heavier than average. These genes can be expressed differently in adults vs children, as well as variations in population, due to many environmental and genetic factors. Putting aside environmental factors, if you had 15-20 of these known genetic variations, meaning you are more likely to develop higher body fat levels (ridiculously unlikely), these variations may only explain 2 percent of the reason why you are bigger than someone else. So, we can’t keep pinning it on our genes from mum and dad anymore, habits and what you do with those genes is key.
The true complexity of obesity cannot be understated, this is just highlighting one component. To see just how complex, click HERE for a great info graph.
How your genes are expressed is the critical part, and that all comes down to your eating and activity habits, your daily routines, your stress management strategies and many other environmental and social factors. If you want further information, there is a 350-page genetic research e-book put together by Precision Nutrition (1), summarising nearly 700 research papers on genetics including the largest ever study, the human genome project, and their implications for all things health and disease. That was some fun Christmas holiday reading. Seriously. For me anyway! Free download HERE if you’re as nerdy about this as I am.
So, with the sciency stuff out of the way, let’s talk about those loved ones and friends and just how important they are to your health.
Healthy habits are contagious, having people around you on the same path makes it that much easier. If your workmate goes to the pub for lunch, you may well join him/her, if your workmate goes for a walk at lunch time, guess what, you will probably join him/her. Research shows that we are critically affected by the body composition, habits and lifestyles of those around us (2, 3, 4). If your friends, family and workmates are fitter, healthier and active, then it is far more likely that you will be too. Unfortunately, the reverse also holds true, in particular when it comes to food selection and amounts we eat (5, 6, 7).
The strength of influence of those closest to you has a big impact on your own weight and health(2):
- having an obese spouse makes you 37% more likely to be obese
- having an obese adult sibling makes you 40% more likely to be obese
- having an obese friend makes you 57% more likely to be obese
Essentially, we all like to follow the herd, it’s called social convergence and it happens unconsciously. It’s important for human interaction, initially it was for survival in the wild, to be accepted and be part of a tribe, village or community. (8, 9, 10).
Here are 6 tips to create healthy habits with those around you
Choose your friends wisely! – If you want to live a healthy and active life, make sure those around you do too. If those close to you are not so inclined, find some people that are aligned with your goals.
Work with an experienced coach – The relationship you establish with your coach can have long lasting effects for you and those around you. They provide not just high quality training, but act as a sounding board, a voice of reason, a resource for education, your source of momentum. Essentially you are now regularly surrounded and influenced by people who encourage healthy habits, and those values are then passed on to friends, family and future generations. The great stuff doesn’t just stop when you leave that one on one training session!
Engage in small group training – Along with the benefits of the training itself, you are meeting others engaging in healthy habits, thus creating a growing social network of people who are on the same path. The ball gets rolling and gains momentum!
Organise that work walk yourself – Week 1 it might just be you doing it, but little by little the crowd will grow and before you know it you will look like Forest Gump at the end of his run. The people not the beard.
Make healthy eating and food preparation a social thing – Engage your loved ones to play a role in making each other’s lunches for the week, learning to be playful and engaged with healthy eating and the joy food can bring.
Break that work cycle – At work, replace the team meeting or client meeting typically held at the pub or restaurant with a walk to a grassy spot and have a picnic. Despite the pressure for the client to be wined and dined, I’ll bet they too are waiting for someone to suggest something other than an artery blocking meal with wine.
Eating better, becoming active, and achieving your health goals, becomes far more probable with the support of friends, colleagues, family and partners. So, choose your environment wisely. Make sure those around you are helping you go in the right direction, or perhaps it is you that will be the leader for positive healthy change in your social circle. When it comes to nature vs nurture, nurture (environment) wins out.
Written by Head Performance Coach David Smith
- Precision Nutrition. (2018). Genetics: The Universe Within — Can knowing more about your genes help you eat, move, and live better?. [online] Available at: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/genetic-testing-ebook [Accessed 12 December 2017].
- Christakis NA, Fowler JH. The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. N Engl J Med. 2007 Jul 26;357(4):370-9.
- Emmons KM, Barbeau EM, Gutheil C, Stryker JE, Stoddard AM. Social Influences, Social Context, and Health Behaviors Among Working-Class, Multi-Ethnic Adults. Health Educ Behav April 2007 vol. 34 no. 2 315-334.
- Junge C (2011, May 24). How your friends make you fat—the social network of weight.
- Vartanian LR, Herman CP, Wansink B. Are We Aware of the External Factors That Influence Our Food Intake? Health Psychology. 2008, Vol. 27, No. 5, 533–538.
- Wang D (August 2014). An Empirical Study on the Influence of Social Networks and Menu Labeling on Calorie Intake in a University Dining Hall.
- Wansink B. Environmental factors that increase the food intake and consumption volume of unknowing consumers. Annu. Rev. Nutr. 2004. 24:455–79.
- Robinson E, Thomas J, Aveyard P, Higgs S. What everyone else is eating: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of informational eating norms on eating behavior. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 114 (3), 414-429.
- Hruschka DJ, Brewis AA, Wutich A, Morin B. Shared Norms and Their Explanation for the Social Clustering of Obesity. Am J Public Health. 2011 December; 101(Suppl 1): S295–S300.
- Umberson D, Karas Montez J. Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy. J Health Soc Behav. 2010; 51(Suppl): S54–S66.