January always seems to signify new beginnings and fresh starts. New Year’s resolutions such as eating healthier and exercising more are common. While these are great areas of your life to work on, they may not be the only areas of your life where a bit of effort contributes positively to your health. Research suggests making time for your friends and having a sense of social connectedness is just as important as your workout routine is to your health. Recent studies indicate that those with strong supportive social networks have lower blood pressure, smaller waists, healthier BMI measurements, and lower levels of inflammation than those lacking supportive social networks. Being socially isolated impacts, one’s health in similar ways as not exercising does.
This key link between social connectedness and health is present throughout all stages of life. It particularly affects adolescents and senior citizens the most, as they are more vulnerable to being socially isolated than those in middle adulthood. Children age 12-18 lacking close social circles and socially isolated had levels of increased inflammation also seen in those lacking regular physical activity. Young socially connected adults saw better metabolic rates and healthier cardio vascular systems.
Social connectedness remains an important factor to our health during middle adulthood with one major difference. People in their mid 30’s to mid 50’s have a high rate of social interaction between work relationships, community connections and through their children. What's interesting, is it's not the quantity of connections we have but the quality of the connections. The more supportive people in our circles the better our health is impacted.
For senior citizens, a lack of social connectedness and feelings of extreme loneliness can have disastrous results. A study conducted at the University of Chicago revealed that extreme loneliness increases premature death by 14% and has twice the impact of obesity on premature death. Feelings of isolation cause disruptions to sleep patterns, elevated cortisol levels, increased hypertension and depression. It is important for older people to stay connected and not succumb to social isolation.
Regardless of age, we all need to focus on three areas of social connectedness for our wellbeing. Each of us needs to have people in our lives who affirm who we are. We need mutually rewarding face-to-face connections. We all need to feel a sense of belonging beyond individual existence.
Take the opportunity to schedule coffee with a friend, plan to meet for lunch or just hang out. Make it a regular habit every stage of your life and you will be healthier for it.