Many activities in life prove to be beneficial to our physical and mental health. Eating healthy food, getting a good night’s sleep and exercising are some of the common ways to remain healthy. But research has shown there may be something just as important as all of those: being social.
BYU psychology professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith, counseling psychology and special education chair, recently did studies showing how social interactions and relationships can positively affect someone’s life span. This studies reinforce the theory that social interactions contribute to a longer lifespan.
“Our research found that people who are involved with others, regardless of their initial age or health status, live longer,” Smith said. “Humans are innately social. We are wired for connectivity.”
Studies show that even though social connections like Facebook aren’t exactly personal, there can be a real satisfaction when a well thought-out post gets “liked” or commented on. Any social interaction, whether it be hanging out with friends or commenting on a wall post, can benefit all parties included in the conversation.
“Relationships also have a direct influence on physiological processes linked to health including blood pressure, immune functioning and inflammatory processes linked to a number of diseases,” Holt-Lunstad said. “They also help to regulate stress.”
The professors’ study indicates that relationships give an increased sense of meaning and purpose in life, increased motivation to care for oneself physically (hygiene, check-ups, etc.) and drop bad health habits (harmful substance intake, risk-taking, etc.).
Sven Wilson, assistant professor in the BYU Department of Political Science who specializes in health economics and demography, released a study showing how the husband-wife relationship can have a “mirrored” effect when it comes to health.
“There are a couple aspects of a marriage relationship that affect health,” Wilson said. “In the psychological aspect, the partner can be a ‘cheerleader’ in a sense, to help the other get over a sickness.”
Wilson continued to explain about the other aspects of a relationship: the social, economic and medical-behavioral. Each aspect contributes to a marriage in a generally positive way that affects the health of both partners. In the social and economical aspects, the couple benefits from being connected to a social network of support information and pooled resources, respectively.
“Our research provides evidence that public health policy should consider ways to strengthen the most stable units of society, marriages and families,” Smith said. “Measures to support families and social support networks will not only prove beneficial to health but to happiness.