Is Your Pandemic Bubble A Keeper?
Among the many lessons learned in 2020, the power of a trusted group of friends is perhaps the most enduring. That summer, nearly half of Americans said they formed a “capsule” or social “bubble” – a select group of friends charged with helping them navigate pandemic life.
It took a pandemic to teach us what many cultures have long known – that friendship pods can bring us healthier and happier lives. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and author, has researched the habits of people who live in “blue zones”. These are areas around the world where people live far longer than average. He has found time and again that cultures with a long life expectancy value strong social bonds. In Okinawa, Japan, for example, where the average life expectancy for women is around 90, during childhood people form a type of social network called a moai – a group of five friends who are social, logistical, emotional, and even financial Offer support for a lifetime. Members of each moai also appear to influence the other’s lifelong health behaviors.
Mr. Buettner has worked in several cities to reproduce the moai effect. For example, in Naples, Florida, he found 110 people who wanted to improve their eating habits and first grouped them by neighborhood. (“If they live too far apart, they don’t hang around,” he said.) He then asked questions about common interests and values, such as: For example, whether a person was watching Fox News or CNN, whether they were enjoying beach vacations or hiking, church, or country music. People with common interests who lived close together formed “moais” of five or six people and then planned five pot-luck dinners together.
After 10 weeks of planning healthy meals together, everyone reported eating more plant-based foods, Buettner said. And 67 percent said they made more friends, 17 percent had lost weight, 6 percent had lowered their blood pressure, 6 percent said they had lower blood sugar and 4 percent said they had lower cholesterol.
Moais can be educated around activities like hiking or bird watching, healthy eating habits, or hobbies like photography. The key is to find like-minded people with common values and goals. And once the groups are formed, members tend to support each other in other ways. When a member of a walking moai in southern California was diagnosed with cancer, other members of the group stepped in to help with food and grooming.
While living in a pandemic has paralyzed many of our social plans, we’ve also learned a lot about friendships that we can rely on and that matter less than we thought. Even if you haven’t formed a social bubble, the New Year is a good time to reflect on the friendships that mattered most during a difficult year.
“It’s not just about the importance of social connections, it’s about leaning on everything we’ve learned about relationships that matter,” said Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University and author of The Joy of Movement “. “What were the relationships that existed during Covid is a really interesting thing to look out for. I’ll remember who always texted when I didn’t always text back. “
Mr. Buettner noted that in forming healthy social groups, we sometimes have to reevaluate friends who are great fun but don’t really improve our lives.
“I used to have a group of friends who were very unhealthy,” said Buettner, whose latest book is “The Blue Zones Kitchen.”
“You felt good to be here, but you weren’t good for me. I think curating your capsule is important. I’m not saying drop your old friends. I say you want to be aware of the people who are adding to your life, who will bring you the best of your years in the future, and who will not infect you with their bad habits. “
Try today’s Well Challenge to learn how to turn your pandemic capsule (or group of friends) into a health-focused bubble. Sign up for the Well newsletter to receive the 7-day Well Challenge in your inbox.
Form a health bubble
The challenge: Try to turn your pandemic into a permanent social group focused on shared values and better health. Add or subtract members as needed.
Take a compatibility quiz: Health bubbles are most successful when people have similar attitudes, values, and goals. You probably already know if you and your pandemic counterparts enjoy the same movies, vacation spots, and social media sites. Now focus on important questions about health and lifestyle choices. How many times has each person participated in rigorous activities in the past month? How many times has someone been sad or depressed? Does anyone in the group smoke? How many vegetables do you eat? Do you eat sweets or junk food? How Much Alcohol Do You Drink? You can take the full quiz online here.
Curate or strengthen your pod: Is yours a pandemic of convenience or shared values? The answers to the compatibility quiz will show you whether or not you surround yourself with like-minded people who can help you achieve better health. If someone in the group is too negative or has lifestyle habits that are causing you to fall, talk to them about their goals. If they want to make changes, support them. You may need to curate your capsule or find new people who want to focus on healthy living.
Create a health goal: Talk to your pod colleagues about long-term health goals. Do you want to exercise more? Try to schedule daily or weekly hiking appointments. Would you like to eat less sugar or eat more plant-based foods? Make plans with your pod to share recipes and prepare the same meals. Take part in Zoom cooking classes together or take a Zoom exercise class for the 7-minute standing workout. If you have Fitbits or smartwatches, sync them so you can share the number of steps. Even if you can’t meet in person during a pandemic, now is the time to start supporting and building on each other’s health goals when we can all get together again.
“If you find a good friend, it could be a lifelong adventure,” said Buettner. “For those of us middle-aged who have the right friends around, whose idea of some fun is physical activity, whose idea of healthy eating is based on plants that take care of you on a bad day, that have meaningful conversation can – that beats any pill or supplement every day. It’s the best intervention to invest in because it’s long-lasting and has measurable effects on your health and wellbeing. “