Could social separation be a larger cause of death and disease than poor nutrition, lack of exercise or even smoking?
New research is saying just that!
Over a decade ago, Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and the world’s best longevity researchers to identify pockets around the world where people live the longest (over 100 years old!). This study wanted to figure out WHY they were living so long and discover what factors were contributing to their longevity. There were multiple commonalities between all 12 zones researched. Surprisingly they found that people who have deep rooted communities and social interaction lived longer than people who lived without consistent social connection.
This decade of research shows just how important it is to get out there and interact with others. In the Blue Zones study they called it finding your “Right Tribe,” which highlighted the importance of building a strong “tribe” of 5 close friends. True friendships with people whom you can connect with, share happy and sad experiences with and call when you need that deeper connection. All of these things contribute to a longer, healthier life.
Similarly, other researchers have found that loneliness is just as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Lonely people are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships.
I think we can all relate to those feelings of loneliness or feeling left out of social interactions, but until now we may not have realized just how detrimental it can be to our health.
In this time of constant communication, how is it that we feel more alone than ever? It seems we are losing that in person, human to human connection. Social media could be to blame here, as it creates a false sense of connection because virtual connection and communication does not have the same impact as in person interaction. The negative effects of loneliness can often worsen through virtual communication.
You might be thinking, “what about those who are constantly around people all day?” Even those who are constantly engaging with people, such as teachers, social influencers, or medical professionals are at risk for experiencing isolation in their personal lives.
The key factor here is not constantly being around people, but rather about having a genuine connection with others. Cultivating supportive relationships takes time but it is essential to our physical and emotional health. When we make time to build and engage in relationships, it reduces stress, increases happiness, and puts into motion the elements that lead to a vibrant and healthy life!
Remember, the quality of our relationships is what matters not the quantity. Nourish healthy relationships and grow through life together.
Ways to intentionally begin building community and fuel your relationships:
- Get lunch or go for a walk with a friend whom you haven’t talked to in a while. We often see updates on social media, but this does not replace face to face interaction.
- Find something you are passionate about and volunteer to help! For example, places like hospitals, nursing homes, soup kitchens, highs schools, animal shelters…the list is endless! Giving back is a great way to get our eyes off ourselves and broaden our perspective.
- Use the online world for good and find people with similar interests on www.meetup.com, Bumble BFF or Facebook events in your area just to name a few. Here you can connect with locals who share a similar hobby, such as hiking, baking, knitting, or even yoga.
- Similarly, join a local class at a community center or new group fitness class! (social connection and physical activity earns an extra gold star!)
The point here is to find something you love and get involved. Doing so will assure that you’ll make friends with people who have similar interests while experiencing increased happiness and a healthier life.
The research is clear on one thing: Human contact is VITAL to abundant health and should be made a priority in your life!
Indian J Psychiatry. 2013 Oct-Dec; 55(4): 320–322.