Healthy social connections are proven to be crucial to physical and mental health at every age. Poor social connections over time can make you more prone to health risks, so it is helpful to begin building healthy relationships young. It certainly continues to be important for older adults, who are in a stage of life where both physical health and social relationships may be changing. Adults tend to have social networks consisting of their spouse, children, family, coworkers, friends, and extended acquaintances such as their children’s coaches or their friends’ parents. As children grow up and move away, and you reach retirement age where you are no longer part of a daily work community, your social interactions can decrease drastically. The social experience of older adults may go through further huge changes as friends, relatives, and spouses pass away. Of course, such losses are extremely difficult. The isolation that may occur from losing one or more of your core relationships can have a profound effect on your mental, emotional, physical and social health. This is why staying socially connected is so important to your health. Remember, health by definition is “.” It is important to us to both provide top quality medication and emphasize that every component of health, including your social relationships, work together for your best health.
Health Risks Related to Social Isolation
Studies have found that social isolation increases inflammation and increased risk of heart disease, among other health risks. Undeniably, social isolation directly contributes to poor health. Here are some health risks that are found in connection with social isolation:
Higher calorie and alcohol consumption
Low physical activity levels
Poor immune function
High stress and cortisol levels
Overweight with larger waist circumference
High blood pressure and increased risk of heart failure
Decreased life expectancy
How Social Support Reduces Health Risks
Research shows that having healthy, supportive relationships can actually offset or reverse some health risks and severity of symptoms. People with strong support from friends, family and community have decreased risk of diabetes, heart issues and more. It is, of course, the quality of these relationships rather than the quantity that will bring improved health.
Social connection is vital to health because it helps relieve stress on a daily basis. As we know, stress (emotional and/or mental) is a very real factor in physical health. Chronic stress increases your likelihood of experiencing troubled sleep, weight gain, IBS, headaches and migraines, high blood pressure, and more.
How to Build Stronger Social Connections
It is a good idea to keep a balance: work with what you have in your life, but also be active about expanding to develop natural and beneficial relationships that may not be present.
Ask yourself what would make you happy to contribute to your community. Focusing on what you can give to others is a proven way to feel both better about yourself and more connected to others. Similarly, you can contribute by educating yourself on a cause that matters to you. Look for clubs, organizations, regular events, and programs connected with your local community centers, libraries, schools, and government centers.
Schedule it! Quality time is often one of the sure ways to deepen a connection. Consider what natural strengths and common bonds and interests already exist in your relationships and schedule it to ensure consistent interaction and growth. For example, ask a friend to join you for weekly tennis lessons, start a walking club with nearby friends or neighbours, or start a Skype bookclub with a out-of-town friends/relatives. Whether the time revolves around an activity or not, don’t forget that the purpose is to connect as a person and be able to freely share your thoughts and feelings and feel heard.
Join something that aligns to your goals. What would you look forward to? What healthy goals have you always meant to incorporate into your life? Join a cooking class even if nobody can sign up with you and be intentional about getting to know the people in your class. Join an aquafit class which gives you a group to meet and exercise with.
We hope this article encourages you to reach out to the people in your life who care about you and love spending time with you. We also hope knowing how valuable social relationships are to your health will give you the motivation to find and build new relationships as well. Identify your relational needs and give yourself the permission to treat them seriously!