Sure, your fitness tracker offers helpful data about your physical health. But for an accurate measure of your overall wellness, science says the size and connectivity of your social network are an even better indicator.

By Lexi Walters Wright
Updated July 11, 2019

Will your doctor soon ask you to about your FitBit stats and your Facebook usage to determine your state of wellness? Maybe, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame sought to learn what social networks could reveal about overall health, happiness, and stress. They had people in the study wear fitness trackers to capture specific health data (like activity levels and heart rates) then complete surveys about mood and stress levels. Scientists then compared the Fitbit data with participants’ online social networks.

What researchers found was that combined, health stats plus social connections offer a stronger picture of overall health and happiness than either data set alone.

"This study asserts that without social network information, we only have an incomplete view of an individual's wellness state,” says Nitesh V. Chawla, lead author of the study. “And to be fully predictive or to be able to derive interventions, it is critical to be aware of the social network structural features as well.”

One of the study author’s key takeaways was that employer programs that incentivize wearing fitness trackers may not, on their own, be motivation enough to encourage lasting changes in employees’ health behaviors. Instead, Chawla advises, companies might also build social platforms where people can encourage one another’s progress.

And you can borrow that mentality outside of work too. You likely already know that finding a workout buddy is an excellent way to stay motivated and get your social fix while reaping the life-extending benefits of exercise. This can include activities like trying a new barre class together or sharing a personal trainer.

So why not use your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram networks to create community and try one of these ideas to encourage wellness on- and offline?

Find an Impromptu Activity Partner

Post an update asking for volunteers for a specific fitness routine: “Who wants to get outside and hike Mount Tom with me this Wednesday before work? Meet at the trailhead at 7:30. I’ll bring homemade blueberry muffins!” You might be surprised by who opts to join, whether they’re captivated by the particular challenge or the prospect of hanging with you.

Use Your Social Network to Gather Ongoing Workout Pals

Consider which private Facebook pages you’re a member of that might yield other people looking to partner up for fitness. For example, ask members of your neighborhood association or your long-ago mothers’ group if anyone wants to meet regularly for a walk or bike ride. Post photos from your crew’s adventures to encourage others to join.

Search for Some #fitspo

Short for “fitspiration” (a mashup of fitness and inspiration), the hashtag #fitspo can be a great search term on all social networks for finding new workout ideas. Tag your own photos with it to add to the ever-growing idea bank.

Enlist Virtual Cheerleaders

We all like to root for people to reach their goals, fitness and otherwise. So use your social network as a place to post your wellness accomplishments. But make those status updates about more than gym selfies and snaps of your healthy snacks: “Day 12 of lunchtime walks: Spotted this cool bird. Anyone know what kind it is?”

Challenge Faraway Friends and Family

Create your own Facebook group of unlikely fitness partners to hold each other accountable. Maybe it’s made up of your extended family, former coworkers, or grade school pals. Ask them to keep the online crew posted about simple ways they stay active and make great health choices throughout their day. Encourage them to brag and ask for help: Workout motivation can come from the least likely people and places!

And at your next physical, bring not only your fitness tracker stats but also details on the creative ways you’re using your social network to get and stay healthy. Your doc will have a fuller sense of your cleverness and your wellbeing.

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