Believe it or not research shows that having healthy social relationships will impact the length of your life more significantly than a gym membership. In fact compared to other risk factors, having too few social connections is pretty costly to our health. Compared to some of the other risk factors the negative impact of social isolation is:
- Equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day
- Equivalent to being an alcoholic
- More harmful than not exercising
- Twice as harmful as obesity
Does this mean that you should already cancel that gym membership that you signed up for on January 1st? Definitely not! However, it does mean that you should consider having a workout buddy or even joining a class at the gym. How do we know that this is true?
In July 2010 Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an associate psychology professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. co-authored a large-scale report on mortality and social relationships. This report examined 148 research studies involving over 300,000 participants (the average age was 64 and the sexes were split evenly) which were followed (aka. studied) for an average of 7.5 years. Professor Holt-Lunstad’s findings are critical: Participants in the study that had strong social relationships were 50% more likely to survive through the monitoring phase of the study than those with few social ties. Or stated more clearly, participants over the age of 18 with strong social relationships lived an average of 3.7 years longer than those with fewer connections.
The findings suggested that the longer life span can be attributed to the many benefits associated with relationships. For example, relationships can provide a purpose or “reason” for living. Connections even increase self-esteem because they can help people feel needed and that they “matter” to another person. According to the study people that feel as though they are needed by another human being often take better care of themselves which may result in regular doctor’s appointments, increased exercise and better eating habits. Consequently, their research shows that people in close relationships have lower blood pressure and healthier immune systems. So what does this mean for you?
Relationships are important! Here are some fun and easy ways to increase your social connections:
- Consider taking a class. Whether it’s at the gym or an art studio, group learning environments can increase social opportunities.
- Get a hobby. Perhaps it’s time to delve into a new pastime. Do you enjoy running? How about knitting? Or even random trivia questions? There are groups for all of these activities around town. A simple internet search could help connect you with other people in your area that enjoy the same activities as you.
- Make time to chat. One big reason that relationships are so helpful is that they can be powerful stress reducers. Consider having a “Stress Reducing Conversation” once a day with someone in your life. Each person gets 10-15 minutes to talk. During this time the talker reflects on the events of their day. The listener’s job is to provide support, validate feelings and to show genuine interest in what the speaker is saying without offering unsolicited advice. After one person is finished, you merely switch roles for another 10-15 minutes.
- Volunteer. Giving back is a great way to not only add purpose to your life but it is also a fantastic way to meet other people.
Healthy relationships not only feel good and lead to a higher quality of life but now we have research that shows that it increases how long we live. So, the next you thank someone for their friendship, maybe you can also thank them for saving your life!