The Connection Between Social Connections and Physical Health
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the sad side of the “holidays blues.” I mentioned that social connections were one factor that affected mood and wellness outcomes. Recently, I just read another study supporting this association. The authors drew on four longitudinal national representative samples in the United States in order to assess the link between four aspects of social relationships and physical aspects of health across lifespans. The authors concluded:
We found that a higher degree of social integration was associated with lower risk of physiological dysregulation in a dose–response manner in both early and later life. Conversely, lack of social connections was associated with vastly elevated risk in specific life stages. For example, social isolation increased the risk of inflammation by the same magnitude as physical inactivity in adolescence, and the effect of social isolation on hypertension exceeded that of clinical risk factors such as diabetes in old age. Analyses of multiple dimensions of social relationships within multiple samples across the life course produced consistent and robust associations with health. Physiological impacts of structural and functional dimensions of social relationships emerge uniquely in adolescence and midlife and persist into old age. (1)
In another large study of 9,267 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, it was found that, “socially integrated women — those with the most social ties, such as spouses, community ties, friendships and family members — were shown to have significantly lower breast cancer death rates and disease recurrence than socially isolated women,” as reported by Science Daily.
Furthermore, the types of relationships that had the highest association with survival differed by sociodemographic of the women. Specifically, the researchers found, “A lack of a spouse/partner (P = .02) and community ties (P = .04) predicted higher BC-specific mortality in older white women but not in other women. However, a lack of relatives (P = .02) and friendship ties (P = .01) predicted higher BC-specific mortality in nonwhite women only.” (2)
Finally, in a third recent study, researchers showed a connection between life-long spouses and stroke survival. Some researchers feel the disparity between singles and married couples was linked to psychosocial factors. Others report that marital instability and rocky relationships really do take a toll on the heart as one important factor.
The Plus Side to Longer Life
In another recent study of 70,000 women, scientists assessed the level of optimism in relationship to high blood pressure, diet, and physical activity. The authors found that the optimistic tended to live longer when compared to their grumpy counterparts. The study was an associative study, so it can’t prove cause and effect. Still, the results were impressive. As reported on Health Day:
For this investigation, scientists reviewed records on 70,000 women who participated in a long-running health study that surveyed them every two years between 2004 and 2012. The study authors examined optimism levels and other factors that might affect the results, such as race, high blood pressure, diet and physical activity.
Overall, the risk of dying from any disease analyzed in this study was almost 30 percent less among the most optimistic women compared to the least optimistic women.
For the most optimistic women, for instance, the risk of dying from cancer was 16 percent lower; the risk of dying from heart disease, stroke or respiratory disease was almost 40 percent lower; and the risk of dying from infection was 52 percent lower, the study found.
Levels of optimism were determined from responses to statements such as “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best,” according to Kim.
While the study uncovered an association between optimism and life span, it did not prove cause and effect.
Catching Christmas Cheer
The good news is, if you aren’t naturally born a Tigger, you still may be able to “catch” his bounce. You could make yourself get happier if you mingle with the “overly peppy” Christmas crowd. They do exist! These people truly have gratitude and joy fill their hearts during this time. Perhaps they’ve visited WhoVille, or more likely, it may be due to the spirit of the season that resides in their brains from years past.
My point is that if have people in your life full of holiday cheer, you may want to stay close to their proximity, especially if a challenging event is on your calendar. This is because happiness is contagious! Well, at least one study found that those who stay connected to happier people tend to be happy themselves. Furthermore, this positively influenced their health (positively ;)).
For more tips for a healthier, happier holiday make sure you read my homepage blog.
I wish you all a wonderful celebrations of this year’s ending!