Effects of Social Bonds on Long Term Health
A mountain of research has demonstrated that diet and exercise play key roles in determining our long-term health. At the same time, recent studies also suggest that strong relationships can make us healthier, while social isolation can have an opposite effect.
Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study analyzed data from four surveys which included Americans ranging from adolescents to seniors. Ultimately, they found a strong correlation between poor social connections and systemic inflammation, high body mass index, high blood pressure and unhealthy waist circumference – all key factors in determining a person’s risk for cancer, stroke and heart disease.
How it Impacts the Body
A defining characteristic of human society, social relationships are a fundamental need just like food, water and exercise. While they don’t know the exact reasons why poor social connections lead to greater health risks, experts believe it probably has something to do with increased inflammation owed to anxiety. Poor or inadequate social relationships also increase the risk of alcohol abuse, drug abuse and overeating.
Important at Every Age
Past research has shown that social interaction plays a critical role for seniors, who tend to live longer when they maintain strong relationships. In fact, statistics indicate social isolation is more of a threat to these people than diabetes and high blood pressure. This recent study also suggests that strong social bonds are just as critical for young people, since social links appear to reduce health risks in each stage of life.
What You Can Do
It’s not always easy for people to form lasting social bonds. That said, parents should encourage their children to build strong social skills and broad social relationships by interacting with others as much as possible. Older adults can maintain more active social lives by joining clubs, doing volunteer work or by participating in church activities.
When to Seek Help
For some people, anxiety can stand in the way of building new relationships. If you are having trouble overcoming psychological barriers that make it hard for you to improve your social situation, talk to your doctor. These days, there are a number of medications that can ease depression and anxiety. Your doctor can also help you find a therapist or counselor who can help you learn effective strategies at overcoming social anxiety.