Did you know that hanging out with friends is almost just as important to our health as eating our greens, drinking tons of water, sleeping our 8 hours, meditating and exercising?
YUP there is tons of research, new and old, that links having a solid social network and frequent social interactions, to longevity, better brain health, and more. While being lonely can increase our propensity for weight gain and poor health overall.
And PERSONALLY, I feel and see it, too.
So first, I’ll share a tiny bit of research.
The Blue Zones (this amazing research that investigated regions in the world where people live longer than average) have shown that people that lived longest belonged to communities with many friends and family connections.
Both having 1) meaningful close relationships (your closest friends, the people you can call on a bad day) and 2) friendly and frequent social integrations (those brief interactions with people as you move through your day, such as the doorman/guard that you pass by daily or the checkout lady at the grocery store), are linked to how long your live, according to Blue Zones research. And of course, it improves the QUALITY of the life you live.
Studies even show that heart patients with less than 4 people in their close support network have more than double the chance of cardiac death. And low quantity (and/or quality) of friends/social connections has been linked with everything from high blood pressure and cancer to impaired immunity and inflammation in the body.
Plus, there is no question that, given the daily STRESS, bad news, struggles and chaos of modern life, having a community and support system is especially important. But again, even striking a small but friendly conversation with that person you pass by in your day to day, be it the bank clerk or your doctor’s assistant, can be helpful for your health!
Now research aside, this is a topic that I’ve personally been gravitating towards, without realizing it.
While I’ve always been a social person, with age I’ve become a bit more secluded (well, mostly I’ve become more “choosy” with my friends, and more lazy to go to big social events). I admit that I now constantly crave movie nights at home!
On top of that, it’s become pretty hard to meet up with people because we’ve started replacing interpersonal connection with “online connection.” Even work meetings get replaced for online meetings because people are too busy to meet in person, so again, we lose that personal contact. And YES we are definitely blessed to have amazing technology and social tools to help keep us in touch with friends all over the world, BUT this blessing can also be a curse!
So I think in part due to all the above reasons, I’ve been craving more close social interactions. Without overthinking it (nor viewing it from a health perspective), I’ve started making that extra effort to keep in touch with friends I love. And make new ones! And whenever I catch up with a friend, or make a new friend, I always feel happy inside, and realize that it helps me destress from whatever else I had going on. So NO DOUBT it has a positive effect on me, and I’ve loved reading research that shows that it has big benefits for EVERYONE.
The key to reaching your ideal weight, being healthy, happy and living long is so much more than diet. It’s about nourishing yourself with health food, water, exercise, rest and relaxation, as well as being part of a community with friends and family you can count on.
I am convinced now, more than ever, that my desire to always do things with friends vs. alone is part of the reason why I’m so healthy, happy, and hopefully will help me live longer!
So what can YOU do to boost your long-term health?
I think tuning in to what you feel that you need is key, because everyone is different and requires different amounts of close relationships and social interactions. Plus we change with time, and that’s ok. But without a doubt, we all benefit from boosting our social connections, community and having a solid support system, so here are 5 things you can start doing now to improve your health, happiness and longevity:
1. Get Active with friends. Join a gym or studio with a community feeling (like Balance Studio!), or any exercise group that allows you to meet new people while exercising. A double positive for your health!
2. Volunteer. Join a charity /non-profit organization and dedicate some of your time to helping others. This is another “double positive” for your overall wellness. It makes us better people, it makes the world a better place, and it’s a great way to meet new friends – both those that you’re helping out, and those in the volunteer organization with you.
3. Connect one-on-one with friends. Make a goal of having coffee/tea/wine/lunch with a friend once a week, or minimum once a month. I learned this from a close friend who does this regularly, and I loved her idea and decided to do it myself. It’s so good for our mental health!
4. Join a Book Club (or Bridge club, or Golf club, or Tennis club, or any group that practices a hobby that you identify with!). I personally love reading, so have just joined my first book club, and am psyched!
5. Be friendly to strangers. Say hi to a stranger. Ask that person you see on a regular basis (but never talk to) their name, then start calling them by their name and making friendly small talk. And wish the person at the checkout counter a great day!
Start applying these 5 tips (or start with 1-2 things, then keep adding on each month) and let me know how it goes! Wishing you a beautiful, long and healthy life!