Today I wish to talk a little about social relationships and health, and how the two are connected. Studies have shown that people who have satisfying social relationships – connections with family, friends, and the larger community – are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. On the other hand, people with relatively fewer social ties have a greater tendency for depression and early cognitive decline, as well as shorter lifespan.
One study, which examined data from more than 300,000 people in Western countries, found that people who lacked strong relationships had a 50% higher risk of premature death — an effect comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, more dangerous than obesity and physical inactivity. (Source: Harvard Health)
Merely having social contacts isn’t enough though – the quality of these relationships matters too. One study found that middle-aged women who reported being in very happy marriages or long-term committed relationships had a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, compared to those in less happy relationships. Another study showed that hostile or negative interactions with family or friends could be linked to poor health episodes in a person’s life.
Having a wide network of such relationships can also help. A study in Sweden found that dementia risk in people aged 75 or more was lowest when the person in question had a large variety of satisfying relationships i.e. friends and relatives.
Relationships, therefore, are just as important as diet and exercise to maintain good health in the long run. When we have a good network of social relationships, we tend to feel better about ourselves. We are happier and better able to cope with situations that life throws at us. Relationships give us a sense of belonging and make us stronger. All this eventually has a positive impact on our physical and mental health too. So it is quite clear that our social relationships and health do go together.
What does this mean in terms of actionable inputs? Simply put, the connection between social relationships and health indicates that if you wish to enjoy a healthy and long life, you should work on your relationships.
Take time out to be there for your close friends and family. Spend quality time with your spouse or partner. Give your children your undivided attention during set times of the day even if you are busy. Call your parents or that friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Plan a girls’ day out (or a guys’ day out) with your school gang. You’ll not just feel great, your (and their) health will also benefit from the time spent together.
What steps do you take to improve and develop your relationships? I’d love to hear from you!
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