How Your Family and Friends Can Make You Healthier

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on April 27, 2017 · 0 comments

Doctors, nurses, physical therapists and dietitians routinely hand out healthy medical advice that is often not followed by their patients. Noncompliance with medical instructions can be life threatening and could prevent a person from living a healthy, productive life.

David Asch, MD believes we should be tapping into cost-free, social interactions with friends and relatives who are already embedded in the patients’ lives. Existing social relationships can be very influential. You might be more likely to go to a gym if a friend goes with you. People are strongly influenced by what others do and by what others think of them. Dr. Asch believes that patient behavior can change or affect others behavior when it is visible to each other. Because we have the idea that health-related behavior must have privacy under all situations, social-engagement strategies are not used very often. They should be.

Dr. Asch suggests a ladder approach to getting others involved in your health care. Minimum involvement could simply be leaving your morning medication in the kitchen so that others in the household will remind you to take your medicine if you forget. A next step might be to become involved with a peer mentor. Connecting a patient struggling with blood sugar control with another successful patient for a once a week phone chat could have a positive outcome.

The next level of social intervention would use reciprocity. You establish an exercise goal with a friend and you both become committed to each other’s personal goals. Not wanting to let the other person down helps to insure success for both of you. The most complex social interaction would facilitate team collaboration and rewards. Employers might offer financial incentives to groups of employees who reach activity goals. Team members feel accountable to each other and can interact to influence their teammates’ behavior.

All these approaches provide an extension of care for little or no cost. Evidence shows that behavior is contagious. So good behavior that can be reproduced should provide good outcomes.

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