In a 13-year study of 2,761 people over the age of 65, tracking all areas of activity, it was found that those who spent time in social activities “fared just as well as those who spent the time exercising.” How? Exercise releases endorphins; neurotransmitters which promote a feeling of well being. Strong ties, a sense of connection and support flood our bodies with endorphins in much the same way that exercise does. Also, positive, loving, nurturing and supportive relationships strengthen and boost the immune system, providing protection against illness and disease.
On the other hand, certain relationships can compromise your health. Negative, critical, judgmental and pessimistic people suppress your immune system, making your body a friendly host for bacteria, viruses and more while lowering your resistance to illness and disease. Having few social connections along with a lack of social fulfillment can also compromise your health. A lack of strong ties is tied to depression, premature cognitive decline and increased mortality.
In a study of more than 309,000 people, a lack of strong relationships “increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.”
Another study in the British Medical Journal reported “older people who were least likely to attend church, travel, or seek out other social activities suffered 20% higher mortality from all causes than those who socialized the most.”
Finally, a 12-year study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that “fewer social ties added up to a greater likelihood of cognitive impairment.”
How does this happen?
People who are lonely and isolated show signs of a suppressed immune system and may struggle with their mental/emotional wellness as they deal with feelings of loneliness, a lack of connectedness and more compare to people who feel connected to a select few close friends or a large group, who show signs of a strong immune system. They also benefit from the support, positive feelings and flood of endorphins that strong social ties often provide.
The benefit of boosting social interactions is crucial to our physical and mental health but how is it that those around you help what’s going on inside of you?
Surrounding yourself with positive people can help reduce damaging levels of stress hormones, like the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol negatively impacts digestive and immune function, heart health, sleep, our weight, hormones, our libido and so much more.
But what if you don’t have many close ties?
Groups, clubs and organizations offer great opportunities for connections that provide real health benefits. There’s also the connection we feel with pets or when we spend time in nature, which provides similar benefits and boosts our health as well.
Do you recognize the link between your relationships and your health? Have your relationships been creating health and wellness…or illness and disease?
It’s time to take a look at what our relationships are providing us and find ways to prevent the physical, mental and emotional wear and tear that destructive relationships can cause. Have any “energy vampires” in your life? Protect yourself…for your health’s sake.