A few years back, a New York Times Magazine cover story asked, Are Your Friends Making You Fat? The obnoxiously titled article took a close look at the work of Harvard researchers Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, who evaluated a 12,067 person social network over 32 years and discovered that obesity spread throughout the social network as if it were contagious.  It wasn’t just a matter of birds of a feather flocking together. The researchers used fancy statistical methods to show that social ties caused weight gain to travel from friend to friend. When someone became obese, their friends were 57%more likely to also become obese. Among close, mutual friends, one friend becoming obese increased the risk of the other friend becoming obese by 171%.

There are some problems with the Christakis-Fowler study, including its use of Body Mass Index (BMI) to define obesity, and its data set being limited to questionnaires where each person listed only a single friend. The study’s main point, though, is solid: within a social network, behaviors and health outcomes spread like butter on a hotcake.   

Happiness, anxiety, political beliefs, divorce, even the experience of low back pain – your friends have an unexpectedly significant impact on all these. No duh, you may say. But you may be surprised at how powerful an impact we’re talking here. Ask yourself, what’s more likely to make you happier, a $11,000 raise or an additional happy friend? You think the former, but studies say the latter.

For more direct evidence of the power of connections, take a look at Queerfit. Even for people who come only once a week, becoming embedded in this particular social network has resulted in far more significant gains than are possible from toiling away for the same amount of time and effort, alone, at the gym.

When we say that Queerfit is an experiment in group fitness, what we mean is that we are looking for ways to harness the power of social networks in order to trigger short-term behavior cascades and establish long-term composite behavior that result in positive health and wellness outcomes beyond what is possible individually. We want to become contagions of strength and mobility. We are constantly looking for ways to intensify the positive peer effects of group exercise. We welcome new people, because what we’re doing works, and we want others to become a part of this dynamic spread of health and happiness.

And you thought we were just doing push-ups in the park.

Well, we’re doing that too. See you tomorrow at 10:00, and bring someone who can use a little dose of contagion.