Forget nixing sugar or eating more kale—here’s the number one change to make for your health.
If there is one thing that I have learned as I’ve gotten older, it is that our physical and our emotional health are inexorably linked. Our lifestyles affect our emotions, and our emotions affect our health. Showing compassion towards ourselves, nurturing positive relationships with friends and family, and taking actions to support causes we believe in actually makes us physically healthier. In fact, multiple studies support the idea that people with close, loving relationships with friends and family actually live longer than those without social support.
That’s why prioritizing and nurturing relationships with like-minded, caring people whom you know support and love you, and whom you can support and love in return is a super, super idea. Not only will you be physically healthier for it, but your quality of life will skyrocket too. By fostering our close relationships we maximize our enjoyment of life and our health at the same time.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
What are the findings of those studies I speak of? One intensive study found that people who were disconnected from others were roughly three times more likely to die than people with close social ties. Interestingly, the people in the study with a supportive network of friends and family yet who had unhealthful lifestyle habits (such as smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise) actually lived longer than those with poor social ties but more healthful living practices. Of course, those in the study with healthful lifestyle habits and close relationships were the healthiest and lived the longest of all. We could eat the healthiest diet in the world, but die a lonely, likely premature death simply by being a hermit. The people in our lives give us reason to want to be free of health problems and in turn, the act of having relationships themselves help keep us healthy.
The type of social relationship or whom it is with doesn’t matter, what matters is the closeness of the relationship. Even people with pets live longer than those who are have no furry friends. One compelling study found that, in patients hospitalized with coronary heart disease, those who had a cat or dog were six times less likely to die than those without an animal companion. These findings held true even when accounting for differences in the extent of heart damage and other medical problems.
This study doesn’t stand alone. The health benefits of cuddling and loving our companion animals was again found during trials for two pharmaceutical drugs used to treat cardiac arrhythmia. Results indicated that patients who had dogs were only one-sixth as likely to die during the study’s duration than those who didn’t have a dog. It seems the best medicine really is love and affection.
Whether it is people or pets, feeling connected to other living creatures is good for our hearts. In a study called the Beta-Blocker Heart Attack Trial, the pharmaceutical drug on trial didn’t improve survival rates or life expectancy in heart attack survivors. Trending with the findings from the other studies, what did improve survival rates was have strong social ties with other people. Astoundingly, those people with strong social connectedness had only one-fourth the risk of dying as opposed to those more isolated. This was even true when controlling for smoking, diet, alcohol, exercise, and weight.
The findings of these studies are remarkable and the overwhelming evidence is a motivating force that we all should take advantage of the proven benefits of prioritizing close relationships. We often make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, quit smoking, and exercise more, all which are great resolutions to make, yet most of us have never been taught about the tangible health benefits of spending quality time with loved ones and furry friends. Host a healthy potluck, visit your local animal shelter or bond with a friend over a planet-based meal. That’s why this holiday season and in the approaching new year, we should all put our relationships first. You might be surprised by how fantastic it feels to reconnect with old friends or spend more quality time with your family.
Cheers to a healthy and joyous holiday season with plenty of good times in good company!