Who’s in your Moai?

While many of us focus primarily on diet and exercise to achieve better health, science suggests that our well-being also is influenced by the company we keep. Researchers have found that certain health behaviors appear to be contagious and that our social networks can influence obesity, anxiety and overall happiness.

Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and author, has studied the health habits of people who live in so-called blue zones — regions of the world where people live far longer than the average. He noted that positive friendships are a common theme in the blue zones.

“Friends can exert a measurable and ongoing influence on your health behaviors in a way that a diet never can,” Mr. Buettner said. In Okinawa, Japan, a place where the average life expectancy for women is around 90, the oldest in the world, people form a kind of social network called a moai — a group of five friends who offer social, logistic, emotional and even financial support for a lifetime.

The key to building a successful moai is to start with people who have similar interests, passions and values. “You stack the deck in favor of a long-term relationship,” said Mr. Buettner.

“I argue that the most powerful thing you can do to add healthy years is to curate your immediate social network,” said Mr. Buettner, who advises people to focus on three to five real-world friends rather than Facebook friends. “You want friends with whom you can have a meaningful conversation,” he said. “You can call them on a bad day and they will care. Your group of friends is better than any drug or anti-aging supplement and will do more for you than just about anything.”

Where you live matters. Who you surround yourself with matters too. Being a part of a community like Summit is more than important. Don’t find yourself lonely or isolated. That alone can age you. To have a “moai” near you where you can see them, talk with them, lean on them in good times and in bad is crucial for your health and well-being. So, wherever you decide to live, find your moai and live longer and happier.