Your social life has a huge effect on your health. Studies show that people who have strong positive relationships with family members and friends are less likely to develop heart disease or cancer. These studies have shown that the more social support you have, the longer you’ll live. Over 148 studies found that people who become isolated have a 50% greater increase in the risk of premature death than those who have a stronger community of relationships.
Having a close-knit community can also help protect against challenges such as depression, obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases. A lack of social support may make it harder to quit smoking or resist unhealthy behaviours like overeating or drinking too much alcohol. In this article, we’ll look at the vital ways social influences can impact our all-round health and wellbeing.
A social community drives motivation and optimism
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, having strong social connections is one of the most important predictors of health in older adults. In fact, they found that people who have a large network of friends and family members live longer than those who don’t, and it’s not just because they’re more likely be encouraged to be more physically active or eat healthy foods!
Social communication can help us to stay motivated and on track with our health goals by providing support when we need it most. In return, we feel happier and less stressed out because we feel like we belong somewhere (or at least know people we can rely on). This can also make you feel more optimistic about your future, which is important since studies show that pessimism can cause stress hormones like cortisol to spike in your body! Social connections can help us to form these healthy habits (and drive away bad habits too) such as regular exercise, getting out of the house more, healthy eating, reducing screen-time, getting enough sleep and maintaining a healthy balance between work and life.
Having a strong community offers both emotional and physical support
Social support can help you cope with stress, getting through difficult times and staying on track with your mental and physical health. Support can come from friends and family, but it also comes from professionals. Whether you need to talk about your feelings about something that has happened or just want to vent, talking with someone who is trained in listening can help. When you are feeling stressed about something, it can be helpful to talk about it. Talking can help reduce stress and positively impact one’s mental wellbeing.
Social connections can help you stay on track with your physical healthy by asking friends or family (who have adopted a healthy lifestyle) for advice and support. They may be able to give you tips and tricks that will make it easier for you to stick to your goals. Having someone who shares the same passion and drive can give you more motivation to maintain your plan to achieve your fitness goals.
Stress of isolation can weaken people’s immune systems
Scientists and researchers like Lisa Berkman (Director of Harvard Center for Development Studies) have conducted vast amounts of studies that confirm a strong correlation between social isolation/feelings of loneliness and an increased risk of illness and death in people. A recent study found that those who felt lonely had higher blood pressure than those who didn’t feel this way, even after controlling other factors like age, sex or race/ethnicity. Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease and stroke, leading to more causes of death in America, as well as depression (another major contributor to mortality). In fact, some experts believe that being socially isolated is as bad for your health as smoking!
The stress of isolation can worsen pre-existing health conditions or unhealthy habits
People with chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and depression can benefit from the stress-reduction effects of interacting with others. Socializing helps you to be more accountable for yourself with others reminding you of your commitment to stay healthy. When you’re socially isolated, it’s easy to fall into unhealthy routines. You may skip exercise or not eat well because no one is there to notice these bad habits and your behaviour.
People with chronic conditions also need to be especially careful not to isolate themselves, as when people feel isolated, they are more likely to engage in unhealthy or risky behaviours that can make their condition worse, such as smoking cigarettes, drinking heavily, being less cautious, gambling and other forms of addiction.
Social connections are important for your health, and they have been proven to make a difference to how long we live. If you’re feeling isolated or lonely, it’s time to reach out and connect with friends or family members who care about you. Even if you’re not feeling lonely, you can probably benefit from more social contact. Pick up the phone to those friends you’ve let slip away, check in on the neighbour you’ve not seen for a while, build a bridge with a family member you’ve been disappointed by. You’ll reap the rewards.
Some other simple suggestions to initiate socialising:
- Spend less time in front of the TV or computer screen.
- Join networking, sport, social, or special interest/community groups that meet on a regular basis.
- Go to a market, strike up a conversation with a shop keeper.
- Don’t be afraid to smile and say hello to strangers you cross paths with.
- Take your grandchildren/pets to the playground/park.
- Consider volunteering, which lets you help others, can boost your self-esteem, and is a great way to meet new people.