The basics of health are well known – eat your vegetables, be physically active and make sure you get enough sleep. But how many of us know that social connection is equally important? Human beings are inherently social creatures. Studies have found that social connection can improve both physical and psychological health. One landmark study found that lack of social connection is more detrimental to your health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure (House, Landis & Umberson, 1988).
Strong social connections can:
- Increase your happiness: In one compelling study, a key difference between very happy people and less-happy people was good relationships. People who feel more connected to others tend to have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Studies have also found that who are connected also have higher self-esteem, greater empathyfor others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.
- Lead to a longer life: People with strong social and community ties were two to three times less likely to die during a 9-year study. A meta-analysis review of 148 studies (308,849 participants) indicated that the individuals with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival. This remained true across a number of factors, including age, sex, initial health status, and cause of death.
- Better health: Loneliness was associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure in a recent study of older people.
- Decrease your risk of suicide:There are a number of factors that put people at higher or lower risk for suicide. Relationships can play a crucial role in protecting a person against suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
- Faster recovery from disease: studies have found that connectedness can lead to a faster recovery from illness and disease. Connectedness can also strengthen your immune system.
Social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being. Sometimes connection is a heart-to-heart, spill-it-all-out talk. But sometimes it’s just a laugh-out-loud e-mail.
Ways to Improve Social Connection
One way to strengthen your social connections is to reach out to the people you already know, such as co-workers, family, school friends or neighbours. Give someone a call, or write or email them and let them know you would like to be in touch more often. Arrange to have a coffee or a meal, or to listen to music, have a round of golf or play chess. Think about the interests you share. Facebook and other social media are also great ways to stay in touch.
Other ideas include joining a sports team or a walking or hobby group, or volunteering. Call your local council to find out about local groups or programs, or visit your local community centre or library – there’s always something happening in your community.
Not all strategies will work for everyone, so try some different approaches to see what works for you. If the first thing you try doesn’t work out, try something different.
Moral of the Story: Eat your greens and exercise, yes, but don’t forget to connect.
For more information, watch the video below.