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5 Ways Social Wellness Influences Health

The holiday season is prime time for gatherings, but our will to socialize is more than mere tradition. Positive social relationships and activities, studies have shown time and again, offer a potent health benefit. Experts categorize this area of health as social wellness, a lifestyle dimension that incorporates our full spectrum of relationships and social activities: what connections do we have, what do we do to cultivate them, and what level of support do we receive from them? Whether it’s a family holiday dinner, a party with neighbors or quality time with a best friend, we’re filling our physiological and emotional wells. Good health, research has found, is about much more than the cornerstones of nutritious diet and regular exercise (as essential as those are). It’s about the entire picture of our wellbeing and the overall enrichment of our lives. In our health journeys, it’s worth asking how much we invest in our social wellness. How do we prioritize positive social experiences in our daily lives, and what opportunities do we forgo? As humans, we’re naturally wired for social connection. When we heed the innate psychological instinct, our bodies benefit, too - in often surprising ways....

Stronger Immune Function

Study subjects who reported being lonely were more likely to show elevated levels of proteins associated with inflammation as well as other signs of poor immune function. In another study, lonely participants had higher circulating cortisol and lower antibody response. Researchers have demonstrated that the body processes social “pain” in the same way it does physical pain, and social rejection can set off inflammatory activity. We physically suffer from social stress. 

Better Cardiovascular Health

Research suggests the impact of social disconnection can raise our risk for cardiovascular disease. In one study, low levels of close attachment and social integration were deemed “significant predictors” of new cardiovascular events.  Other research has linked loneliness with elevated blood pressure. 

Lower Risk for Depression

In a ten year study, those who had the highest quality relationships had less than half the depression risk of those who lived with strained or unsupportive family and/or spousal relationships.

Healthier Aging

As we age, social connectedness takes on additional importance. Research has linked social engagement and belonging respectively to better motor skill retention and a lower risk of memory loss. In the famous longitudinal Grant Study, close social relationships were important variables influencing late-life adjustment.

Longer Life

Finally, a substantial research review examining the role of social relationships and mortality found that lack of social connectedness was as strong a predictor of mortality than many other traditional risk factors, including smoking! 

Experts agree the quality of our most intimate connections (e.g. partners, family, close friends) hold the most sway over our social wellbeing. While we might enjoy a full social calendar or build large social media networks, it’s the depth and closeness of our inner circles that tend to register most health-wise. Still, every effort we make to feel connected with the people we encounter each day can fill our social well and allow us to feel more integrated, one of the factors cited in research.

With the passing of holiday party season, it can be tempting to hole up during these midwinter weeks. Consider these findings one more reason to invest in quality time with those you love. As important as all our weight loss efforts are, it’s helpful to remember that what makes us happy in the big picture is often what makes us healthy. A well-balanced life can be as important as a well-balanced diet. When we make time for what cultivates our greater life satisfaction, we’re creating deeper well-being. The good life, lived to its fullest, is often the healthiest one, too. 

How would you rate your social wellness these days? What’s your favorite way to keep in close touch with your circle of family and friends? Thanks for reading today.

Written by Jennifer Wannen, Content Manager

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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