Why social connections are important to our health — and how to strengthen them
When it comes to our health and longevity, we all know some basic truths: Proper nutrition is vital, preventive health screenings are essential and exercise is a must. But there may be another surprising “ingredient” that’s just as important — meaningful relationships with significant others, friends or family.
The science of social connections
Harvard Medical School reported findings from an 80-plus-yearlong study conducted by Robert Waldinger, M.D., a psychiatrist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. The study shed new light on the association between social connections and overall health.
Here are the key takeaways:
Social connections appear to be good for health
Dr. Waldinger reported that people who are more connected to their family, friends and community are “happier, healthier and live longer than people who are less well-connected.”
Loneliness appears to be toxic
Those who are isolated may experience decreased happiness, a health decline earlier in midlife, earlier brain function decline and shorter lifespans.
Participants in the study who were most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. “Living in conflict, such as in a high-conflict marriage, is bad for your health,” Waldinger says. “Living in the midst of warm relationships is perhaps protective.” Additionally, being part of a “securely attached relationship” was found to relate to a sharper memory later in life.
Ramping up your relationships
Feeling like your relationships with friends and family aren’t as numerous or strong as you’d like them to be? You’re not alone. The good news is, there are many ways to make and foster meaningful social connections. Try one (or a few) of these ideas:
A great way to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships can be to participate in an activity together. Try joining a social committee in your residential co-op or walking dogs at a local animal shelter. Explore opportunities by calling your local community center, hospital, school and church or tapping into philanthropic organizations.
Meet a friend for a weekly coffee
This could be the same person every week or a new friend each time.
Use your smartphone
Sending texts, initiating video chats and making phone calls put social connections right at your fingertips. Texting in particular can be a fun and easy way to keep in touch with friends and family members.
Get out of your comfort zone
It's easy to stick to a routine. But if you’re not experiencing rich relationships right now, you need to change things up. Say yes to invitations. Reach out to a new neighbor. Focus on being friendly, and get ready to enjoy the new relationships that will undoubtedly begin to enter your life.