Want to improve your health? Try being more social

(Photo: Pixabay)
(Photo: Pixabay)

Looking for ways to boost your health and your emotional well-being? You may benefit from strengthening your relationships and being more social.

Research shows that individuals who have satisfying relationships and strong social connections – with family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, romantic partners, etc. – are happier, enjoy better health and may even live longer.

On the other hand, those who lack social ties are more likely to suffer from depression, experience cognitive decline and have an increased risk of early death.

One study, which looked at data from over 300,000 participants, concluded “the influence of social relationships on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality”.

An 80-year-old Harvard study on adult development discovered that close relationships protected people from life’s discontents, helped delay mental and physical decline, and were “better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes”.

“Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism,” says psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard study.

Strong and satisfying social ties have been found to:

  • reduce stress

  • decrease anxiety and depression, and increase positive emotions

  • motivate you to develop good habits and avoid unhealthy ones like smoking and excessive drinking

  • help you cope with challenges, trauma and crises

  • enhance belongingness, empathy, cooperation and trust

  • improve self-esteem

  • boost immunity

  • improve memory and cognitive function

  • lower your risk of cardiovascular disease

  • enable faster recovery from disease

Diversity in social connections has also been associated with better health. Dr. Sheldon Cohen, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA, found evidence that people with more types of connections were less likely to develop the common cold after exposure to the virus.

Meanwhile, frequent conflict, disappointing interactions and lack of satisfaction in a relationship such as a marriage can have a negative effect and lead to poor health.

(Photo: Pixabay)
(Photo: Pixabay)

8 ways to build strong social bonds

  • Enjoy meals together as a family

  • Travel and enjoy weekend getaways with friends/family

  • Join a group of people who share a common interest or hobby, and schedule regular meetings

  • Join a class (e.g. yoga, aerobics) at your local gym

  • Participate in a group sport

  • Take a daily walk with your neighbour

  • Volunteer at a charitable organisation, place of worship, school, community centre, etc

  • Take a coffee/lunch break with your colleagues

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