To prevent health risks you need your social circle

To prevent health risks you need your social circle

When you’re aging and want to prevent health risks, you have to motivate your social circle as much as yourself. Even when you’re over 60, prevention of health risks pays off. However, such prevention does not come easy.

Prevention is a lifestyle intervention tool. For most of us our lifestyle is the consequence of a long and repetitive social process. That’s why it’s very hard to try to change your lifestyle on your own.

As much as yourself, you will have to motivate the social circles in which you participate. In this article I explain why, and offer some suggestions on how you can motivate your social circle to help you.

Health risks

When aging, there are three major health risks: a sedentary lifestyle, overweight, and a poor metabolism. Each of these three risks pose a serious problem. In combination these problems will make you sick. 

Physicians like it when you’re sick. Physicians are trained, like mechanics, to repair what’s wrong. And they’re often pretty good at it. However, their medical reflexes tell them to prescribe medication or to knife the wrong parts away.

They don’t prescribe your lifestyle, let alone hold your hand all day while you make an effort to change it. Physicians are not part of your everyday social circle. After they’re done with you, you’re out there on your own. 

Change of lifestyle

Social occasion: a festive meal

Of course, you’re not quite on your own out there. Your family, friends and colleagues are there. However, are they there to support you? Are they willing and prepared to respect and support your choice to change your lifestyle?

Will they also give up their sedentary lifestyle? Eat less? Eat better? Stop smoking? Stop drinking alcohol? Stop eating salt, sugar or non-essential fats? Stop watching TV all night? Or sit all evening behind their laptop or with their mobile in their hands? Could you ask them to change as well?

Most people don’t need much explaining to understand how difficult it is to gain social support, especially for such drastic changes as a change of lifestyle. We’re cast in a social and physical environment that will always try to determine whether we are able to succeed in changing.

Prevention is a lifestyle intervention tool

In general there are three ways to handle the challenge of convincing your social circle to support you to succeed: 

  • by fear mongering;
  • by pointing out the pleasure of sharing the challenge;
  • or by presenting the change as your personal desire in which they play a major role.

Be aware that any of the three ways can be as effective. The problem is that you can only use one approach at a time per individual, because most people have a prefered inclination to one of the three. Moreover, it’s not always clear what sensitizes individuals. And you’ve also to take into account that in social circles people exchange views and experiences.

Fear mongering

Fear mongering

You might try to persuade your social circles that social health risks, such as a sedentary lifestyle, overweight, and a poor metabolism, cause heart and vascular diseases and diabetes. As such, these are not nice diseases, but their complications are even more fearsome: blindness, kidney failure, heart failure, open wounds, and non-healing infections.

Such diseases and their complications often come with depression, and insomnia. Moreover, the pills the physicians prescribe to counter these diseases and complications, always cause side effects. Take for instance bisphosphonates, which are supposed to cure or mitigate osteoporosis. The prescription comes with a small book to explain the side effects.

Personally I do not prefer fear mongering. However, many people seem to be motivated by arguments that point right at their fears.  

The pleasures of a shared lifestyle change

Many people like to share challenges. With family members, with friends, and even with colleagues. Take for instance the following lifestyle change. You agree with your family members or some of your closest friends to sit at least 2 hours less every day for a week. At the end of each day you share your experiences.

To give the challenge some spice, it’s perhaps best that all participants first write down how many hours of the day they estimate they sit during an average week: at breakfast, in the car, in public transport, at lunch, at dinner, in front of the TV or the laptop at home. 

The next week they measure with their clocks how many hours they really sit down. In the third week, they try to sit 2 hours less each day (in this article you can read why it’s better not to sit too long and find some suggestions on what you can do standing during these 2 hours). Yes, you’re allowed to watch TV standing up straight. You might even be able to do some simple exercises while watching TV.

The desire to tackle health risks

Social event: wadwalking

The third option to call for social support for your lifestyle change, is to present this change as your most favorite desire. Don’t explain the background, it’s your most important and deepest personal wish. Clarify the change as an improvement, as something, which you expect to do you a lot of good.

Ask family, friends, and colleagues directly for their support. Of course, they will ask what kind of support might favor you. Don’t go into all the details of what caused you to desire a lifestyle change, how you plan to organize the change, and what goals you exactly aspire to achieve.

Just try to share your belief, that you need the safety of your social environment, and that you need to share this concern with them, and the hope that the challenge will pay off. For which you will be forever grateful to them. For some people to believe in you is more important than the facts.

To escape social pressures is difficult

How difficult it is to aspire to the challenge of a lifestyle change can be explained with one very simple example. To eat out is an intricate and very important and agreable part of social life. With the virus this has become somewhat difficult.

This hasn’t stopped clever people from turning such disadvantages to their favor. Many restaurants and caterers started home-delivery services. You might think that during the pandemic they picked up the lesson that it’s very important for people to improve their immune system. As a consequence, they likewise should have made their menus more healthy.

However, they keep on pouring their usual enormous amounts of sodium salt, granulated sugar, and non-essential fats in their food. These ingredients are a direct and very serious threat to any immune system, even the one of healthy people.

How do you explain to your family and friends that you love it when they invite you for dinner, however, that you no longer care to share unhealthy food? Or that you no longer wish to drink alcohol. To escape social pressures is probably one of the most unpleasant and likewise difficult challenges there is. Yet, to be able to change your lifestyle, you have no choice but to try.

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2 thoughts on “To prevent health risks you need your social circle”

  1. Hi, these are very good questions. When you make a change in lifestyle, it is often received by resistance, depending on what change you make. When I became vegan, I received ridicule and even aggressive rebuttal within my own family. At work I was the one with the “weird diet”. Now years later, my colleagues come and ask me about healthy eating, go figure, lol.
    My family has also gotten better about it, but it took them a while. My mother was the only one who was supportive about it from the beginning, she only didn’t know what to cook for me, haha, but I talked to her and showed her some easy plant-based meals, which she had already been making anyway. 😉

    I think that any change is usualy disconcerting and most people don’t like change, which is why the first reaction is often resistance; but when it comes to health, some changes must be made. Otherwise you are going to experience some very unpleasant and unwanted changes in your body, like the health issues you mentioned … So lifestyle changes can only be good in the long term.

    • Times change indeed, Christine. It’s great that you kept approaching your colleagues in a way, that has not repelled them to ask questions now.
      There is a story about an island with apes. As soon as the 100th ape took over a changed behavior, every ape on that island but also the neighboring islands would change as well.
      I hope you don’t feel offended (because I mean it really positive): I consider you, Tom, me as part of that first 100 apes. By giving an example over and over eventually all the other apes will follow. 🙂


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