Friendship: one of the essentials to longevity

07.23.15 |

Friendships matter. They give us energy.

When we talk about health and longevity, we often talk about choices related to activity and nutrition. Are you eating healthy foods? Are you staying active throughout the day, every day? These are important facets of health, but health is so much more than what we eat and how many calories we burn. Optimal Health encompasses the whole of our lives, from the foods we eat to the careers we pursue.

Many of these choices are “invisible.” They are easy to miss. Where eating a healthy meal and stopping for a yoga class after work have very clear and often immediate impacts on your health, the less obvious choices can fall by the wayside because we can’t see the rewards as easily.

The medical community, however, continues to find that friendship is crucial to our mental health.

For example, your personal relationships can affect your longevity in measurable ways, but day to day you might not recognize their importance or their impact. Where breaking a sweat with a workout is very active and very concrete, a thoughtful conversation with a friend is far less tangible. The medical community, however, continues to find that friendship is crucial to our mental health.

In a news release, the Alzheimer’s Association highlighted recent research that found a link between cognitive decline and loneliness in seniors.
That same release quotes Nancy J. Donovan, one of the lead authors of the loneliness study. Donovan says, “Our study suggests that even one or two depressive symptoms – particularly loneliness – is associated with an increased rate of cognitive decline over 12 years. We found that lonely people decline cognitively at a faster rate than people who report more satisfying social networks and connections. Although loneliness and depression appear closely linked, loneliness may, by itself, have effects on cognitive decline. This is important to know as we develop treatments to enhance cognitive health and quality of life for older adults.”

While Donovan’s work highlights the potential late-life consequences of loneliness, we also have research that suggests that the effects of social isolation can have an impact on your health at any age. In fact, if you are a long time reader, you will recall me writing about a study that compared the dangers of social isolation to the dangers of obesity.

Friendships matter! They give us energy. They help us to enjoy valuable life experiences. They help to give our life purpose and direction. I have said many times that one of the greatest rewards of Optimal Health is the ability to spend more time with the people that we love, and this research shows that these relationships in turn also help us to thrive.

Tips for nurturing the relationships in your life

Relationships, like our fitness, take time and attention to develop and to maintain. If you neglect them, they will deteriorate. Here are some tips for sparking and nurturing the relationships in your life:

  • Make time. Whether you are spending time with your spouse or with your friends, set aside time each week for the people in your life, and put away your cellphone while you’re with them to make the most of every minute.
  • Find an activity to share. Having an engaging activity to come back to regularly is a great way to make and build friendships. Your activity could be anything group-related: a yoga class, a hiking trip, or even a bridge club. Anchoring your social time to an activity doubles your return and helps to keep everyone engaged.
  • Reach out just because. You don’t always need a reason to say hello. If you have a free moment, send an email or make a call to an acquaintance just to say hi and to see how they are. These surprises are good for everyone involved and help to keep you connected.
  • Talk to your health coach about health-themed events. People are congregating around mutual health goals across the globe, and these gatherings are a great place to meet likeminded people. Not only will you make friends, but your support network will grow as well.

I hope that this post helps you to think more deeply about the value of your relationships. Like I said before, the rewards for building friendships might not be as visible as the rewards for weight loss. You won’t look in the mirror and see the return, but you will certainly feel the rewards in your heart and mind.