The Effect Love, Connection and Friendship has on our Overall Health
The world today has become a pretty strange place, one that’s ever-changing, one that looks different to what it did even a month ago, but the one thing that humanity never forgets, no matter the state of the Earth, is love.
Coming up this month is Valentine’s Day, which may seem like a silly “Hallmark Holiday” to some, but it is a great opportunity and prompt to tell loved ones just how important they are to you. This is especially important as we have more and more evidence to support the effect that love, connection, companionship and friendship has on our overall health.
As mobility decreases or the world goes into another lockdown, it can be challenging to fill your social bucket. Older or more isolated people are particularly vulnerable. This can have followed on consequences as research tells us maintained connection with others is likely to:
- Lower the risks of dementia and other mental declines
- Less reliance on domestic support
- Improve life quality
- Elevate levels of life satisfaction
Conversely, a 2015 analysis that compiled data from 3.4 million participants across 70 studies found that “the absence of social connections carried the same health risk as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness led to worse outcomes than obesity. And the findings held true for people of all ages”.
Keeping up social connections also helps people to increase their life expectancy. As per research conducted in the world “blue zones”, that is, geographic areas where people have low rates of chronic disease and live longer than anywhere else, it was found that social connections help older people maintain their thinking skills and therefore slow cognitive decline.
These blue zones contain extraordinarily high rates of people who live over 90 and 100, and genetics only “accounts for 20-30% of longevity. Therefore, environmental influences play a huge role in determining your lifespan”.
So, the impact of staying socially connected is clear, but how do you increase or even create your rate of social connection to beat loneliness? Improving social relationships can come from conversations with those in your intimate circles, such as family and friends, or relational connections. These are people that you regularly see, such as colleagues, neighbours or even your local barista or OsteoStrong coach can help you fill your social bucket each week. You can also become a member of a group or affiliation, where you will find connections with shared interests, values, faiths, or experiences. By having meaningful, long-term relationships in these areas, you are likely to help yourself not only feel better but live longer.
Eating well, staying active and looking after your mind are all important aspects of overall health, but never forget the significance of love and connection. We are social creatures at heart, and more relationships will help us be the best versions of ourselves for longer.
Until next time, stay social!
Feeling Lonely – we have compiled some handy resources for loneliness:
- Better Health Channel, for information on making friends, tips for making friends and staying involved as an older person
- beyondblue, for information on staying active as an older person
- Relationships Australia provides counselling, mediation, dispute resolution, relationship and parenting skills education, community support, employee assistance programs and professional training. Services and programs are available nationally. Phone: 1300 364 277