Scientific research continues to show a strong correlation between an individual’s social relationships and the prevention of various chronic illnesses as well as sustaining a higher quality of life. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that “health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing…”, indicating the social aspect as an essential component in the wellness equation.
On the other hand, the lack of social connection can lead to a higher risk of developing poor health, including increased incidence of depression, cognitive decline, and premature death. The results from one large-group study showed a 50% increase in premature death from all causes, found in those individuals reporting a lack of strong social bonds and relationships in their lives. This implies that isolating oneself from others can literally shorten lifespan and negatively impact the quality of life.
In recent news, we are told of “Blue Zones”; a topic that has gripped the attention of health experts around the world. Essentially, the communities designated Blue Zones appear to benefit from longer lifespans and fewer detrimental health conditions, when compared to other global communities. Several key components are said to contribute to the fortunate health outcomes of these individuals, including adequate physical activity, plant-based diets, mindful living, as well as strong community support. Indeed, those people with strong social bonds through family, friends, and the community live longer, happier lives, and reduce the risk of developing certain chronic health issues in their later years.
So how does social connection and strong personal relationships promote your wellbeing? A chronic stress response can be tied to the development of numerous health problems, including cardiovascular, immune, and digestive dysfunction. Fortunately, the positive impact of meaningful and supportive relationships actually helps to reduce the pervasive stress response and the negative effects on your health.
Simple social behaviors, such as a hug or laugh between friends, has been shown to significantly mitigate the stress response, resulting in a measurable reduction in blood pressure. Amazingly, the support that is offered in a personal relationship, such as providing advice or assistance to a friend, benefits both the receiver of help as well as the giver, in promoting health and wellbeing.
Ultimately, we fair better in health when surrounded by those we care about and reciprocally, by those who care about us. Therefore, it is essential to take time out for nurturing your personal relationships and social bonds. The time you invest in strengthening these connections can add years to your life and vitality to your years.
Dr. Jason Culp, ND - Chiva-Som International Health Resort