Every year we make New Year's resolutions. Maybe we want to strengthen our bodies, or eat better, or make a resolution to quit smoking. As it turns out, strengthening your social relationships may be an effort worth adding to your list of New Year's resolutions. It contributes to good health, and due to that it. extends your lifespan.
Social connections do not only give us pleasure, they also influence our long-term health as much as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking. Dozens of studies have shown, that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier. They have fewer health problems. And due to that, they live longer.
Conversely, a lack of social ties is associated with depression and later-life cognitive decline, with increased mortality.
One study examined data from more than 309,000 people. It found that a lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death by 50%. Actually, this is an increase in mortality risk similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It has a greater influence than obesity, a disorder involving excessive body fat, or physical inactivity.
What makes social connections beneficial
Scientists are investigating the biological and behavioral factors, that account for the health benefits of connecting with others. For example, they've found that it helps relieve harmful levels of stress. It can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system. Another line of research suggests that caring behaviors trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.
Research has also identified a range of activities that qualify as social support. Those activities range from offer help to others, or giving advice, to giving tenderness. Besides, those studies suggest that the life-enhancing effects of social support are beneficial for the giver, as well as to the receiver.
All of this is encouraging news. Because caring for others is one of the easiest health strategies to access. It's inexpensive, it requires neither special equipment nor knowledge, and we can engage in it in many ways.
For example, one study on midlife women showed, that the quality of their partnership matters. Women who were in highly satisfying marriages had a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, compared with those in less satisfying marriages. Other studies have linked disappointing or negative interactions with family and friends with poorer health. One fascinating line of research has demonstrated reduced immunity in couples during hurtful conflicts.
Having a network of important relationships also makes a difference. A large Swedish study examined people aged 75 and above. It concluded that dementia risk was lowest in those, with a variety of satisfying contacts with friends and relatives.
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Understand the messages of your body. And, how to act on them for your longevity.