You can influence your behavior by hanging out with healthy people.  Use peer pressure to your advantage, and find healthy friends who keep you motivated and inspired.

This is the second post in a five part series on the topic of how to stay healthy and keep good habits going all year.

Leveraging Peer Pressure to Your Advantage

Studies show that social influence, or peer pressure, can have a positive impact on exercise behavior (both adherence and compliance), cognition of exercise involvement (both the intention to exercise and to produce results) and attitudes associated with the exercise experience. Tim Church, M.D., M.P.H, Ph.D., is Professor of Preventative Medicine at Pennington Biomedical Research Center and also runs a consulting practice where he advises companies on how to create effective wellness programs.  “A significant predictor of whether people are going to stay on an exercise program is if they have a friend (either an individual or group) who works out with them.  Getting people connected to each other is critical.”

We are hard-wired not to want to let our friends down.  We are social animals and if we promise someone we will meet them at the gym, we feel really guilty if we do not keep our promise.  Research shows that having a partner or “exercise buddy” can be highly effective at ensuring we will actually work out, not just talk about it.

I’m a big fan of Dr. Robert Cialdini, a well-known social psychologist, who has written a great deal about social influence and decision-making.  (I’ve bought his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion at five different times and then given it away to friends.)  His studies on social influence show that 1) peer pressure is powerful, especially when the decisions we are making are complex or ambiguous, and 2) the closer we are to the person or group we are comparing ourselves to, the more likely we are to be influenced by them.

Net, net, if you surround yourself with healthy friends and peers, you are more likely to exercise, to move, to stop smoking and other good habits.  And you are more likely to feel good about it!  Here are a couple of particularly good research articles if you want to go deeper:

An Actor-Based Model of Social Network Influence on Adolescent Body Size, Screen Time, and Playing Sports

Group versus individual approach? A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of interventions to promote physical activity

What You Can Do

Find a friend you like to exercise with and set up meetings on your calendar for to exercise with them.  Surround yourself with people who are healthy and already adopt the behaviors you are trying to achieve. Just being around them will help nudge you to make better decisions.

Want more ideas for how to stay healthy?

How to Motivate Yourself to Stay Healthy

Find an Accountability Partner to Stay Healthy

Best Health Apps to Motivate You  

A Healthy Environment Can Nudge Behavior

Photograph of Leigh StringerLeigh Stringer is a workplace strategy expert and researcher.  She works for EYP, an architecture, engineering and building technology firm and is the author of The Healthy Workplace: How to Improve the Well-Being of Your Employees—and Boost Your Company’s Bottom Line.