Your online life has very real health consequences

04.01.14 |

Health is more than eating the right food and exercising regularly

Health, as a state of being, encompasses all aspects of your life and is tied to almost every decision that you make.

When I talk to individuals about their health, the initial conversation is usually about weight loss, because that is a part of health that most people understand. Obesity is a national epidemic, so people know that being overweight is unhealthy. They have heard over and over again that obesity is linked to a wide variety of health complications.

Unfortunately, they often lack the tools to create lasting health, so they may yo-yo diet and eventually give up on a life of optimal health altogether. But they know it is a problem worth solving.

Knowing the consequences of obesity is a good first step, but it does not complete the picture. There are many areas of your life to consider beyond what you eat and how much you exercise. Your social circle, for example, can be just as important to your health as your exercise routine.

A recent study published in the journal PLOS One found that emotions can spread from person to person online much in the way that they do in physical interactions. Just as you may avoid the office “drama king” in person for the sake of your own stress and anxiety levels, so should you mind who you let influence your mood online. Likewise, you should be mindful of how your own online actions could affect someone else.

James Fowler, one of the leads on the PLOS One study, told Health Day that “for every one happy post you write, it causes friends in other cities to write an additional one or two happy posts.”

And if you write a negative post? Expect a similar ripple of consequences. And in reality people communicate to 3 people when something positive occurs but on average when the news is negative it amplifies to 33. Just look at the Malaysian airplane disaster and how it has occupied the minds of the whole world.

As far as your own journey toward optimal health is concerned, there are two key lessons that we can learn from this study:

1. As you grow and nurture your support network, surround yourself with positive influences both on and offline. With most Americans living a large portion of their social lives online via Facebook and Twitter, we can’t ignore the role that our online activities play in our physical health. Social media—even though it’s digital—is very much real life. The interactions are real, and they have consequences. If someone in your network is consistently posting negative thoughts, you don’t have to unfriend them, but you should consider “unfollowing” them (in the case of Facebook) to help keep your feed positive and fresh.

2. You may not realize it, but you are a leader. You might not be speaking in front of thousands from a conference podium, but your online posts have the potential to affect just as many people. Furthermore, the people that you are connected to—friends, family, and colleagues—respect you enough to stay connected with you. You can become a positive voice in your network, and therefore in the lives of the people that you care about, by being conscious of your updates. Make only upbeat, optimistic posts. If you feel the need to talk about something negative, consider doing it in private with a trusted friend instead. You will likely find that deciding to be more positive online will actually make you more positive in general, which can help to reduce the amount of stress and anxiety in your life.

In addition, long hours on a electronic device reacting to others needs can keep us from focusing on what is most important in our own lives and certainly the affect of sitting on our rears directly increases our risk of disease!

When we look beyond weight loss, we see that health is all encompassing and that every facet of our lives is interconnected. We are more likely to succeed on our journey to optimal health when we are positive and motivated, and we are more likely to stress-eat and to skip exercising when negative experiences sap our energy and weigh us down. In this way, the people that you allow to influence you—and this is just as much a choice as what you eat—can be just as critical to your overall health as achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

To add some positivity to your online life, join our Optimal Health Community. And feel free to share our updates to be that positive influence for someone else.