Author: Shoshana Belisle, MSW, MA, RYT, Wellness Advisor and Director of Wellness Research
If you have set an important health or wellness goal for yourself for 2020, consider the power of social support and coaching for accountability, a more enjoyable experience, and for ensuring your success.
We are social creatures and generally feel better when we have the support of others. In fact, social isolation is one of the strongest predictors of reduced life expectancy. Conversely, solid and meaningful social integration increases the odds of a longer life span. Consciously cultivating relationships doesn’t just lead to more joy - it confers powerful protection for your health!
While there are a variety of emotional, mental, spiritual and physical factors that may link social connection with health, it is likely that connections help us make lifestyle choices that positively impact health and even increase the benefit of our exercise. Research has demonstrated that engaging in social sports has a stronger impact on longevity than physical activity done alone. Activities such as yoga, dancing, tennis, and soccer - which usually involve two or more people exercising together - improve longevity and wellbeing more than solo sports such as swimming, jogging or cycling. It appears that the benefit comes not only from exercise but also from the sense of community that is generated. It is not even necessary to engage in vigorous activity to gain these benefits. Light to moderate full-body movement in a social atmosphere is all that’s required. If you are not interested in group sports, engaging someone to exercise with you provides both emotional and instrumental support and helps ensure better self-regulation, particularly creating a stronger sense of self-efficacy.
Social support also helps people with chronic diseases achieve better health outcomes. It is even a primary factor in weight loss success. Weight management programs that involve peer coaches, buddy systems, group involvement, or some form of social commitment and accountability help people lose weight and keep it off. Support can either be in person or through internet-based functions. In fact, support by video conference is a viable strategy that was shown in one study to be more effective than working in person. Additionally, when attendance in weight loss programs is monitored by someone else (as opposed to self-monitored), attendance is improved by 65%. Programs that create an expectation for showing up make people more accountable for their actions.
Having even one other person on your team can be a huge help. And hiring a coach is a proven strategy for meeting health and wellness goals. One study found that people with cardiovascular disease who engaged in consistent health coaching (4 sessions or more) as part of a structured disease management program had a substantial decrease in mortality over the following 6+ years compared with participants who 3 or fewer sessions. Additional studies have shown that personal health coaching can help people with diabetes better control their blood sugar levels.
So what does this mean for your wellness planning for 2020? Consider building a team to keep you on the path toward your health and wellness goals. By making a commitment to another person, you are making an even stronger commitment to yourself and the goals you seek to fulfill.
Building a team could include hiring fitness experts such as a personal trainer or yoga instructor, or it might mean making weekly check-in calls with a wellness coach. Maybe it means enlisting an exercise buddy or signing up for a weekly group fitness class. You don’t need to travel the journey alone.