In 1979, a groundbreaking study was published, revealing the significant role of social connections in our well-being. This study, which spanned nine years and involved nearly 7,000 adults, shed light on the increased mortality risk faced by individuals lacking social and community ties. This raised questions about the true impact of relationships on our health.
Following the publication of this study, numerous subsequent investigations confirmed and replicated the findings. These studies established that individuals with a greater number of social connections have a lower risk of mortality and are less susceptible to various health issues. Moreover, they are more likely to survive heart attacks, less prone to depression, more resistant to infectious diseases, and less likely to experience cancer recurrence. Meta-analyses even indicated that the influence of relationships on mortality is comparable to traditional risk factors like exercise and smoking.
This accumulating evidence strongly suggests that the quality and quantity of our connections to others have a profound impact on our health, comparable to commonly recognized healthy behaviors such as physical activity and abstaining from smoking. Surprisingly, few people consider improving their relationships when setting health goals, nor do they regard loneliness as a health threat equivalent to smoking cigarettes. Astonishingly, one study found that social isolation carries a risk equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day. It is high time that we recognize supportive and meaningful relationships as essential components of a healthy lifestyle.
One critical question pertains to the association between relationships and health: Does it primarily stem from the positive benefits of good relationships or the negative consequences of bad relationships and loneliness? The answer appears to be both. Healthy and positive relationships act as a protective factor for our health, while social isolation and dysfunctional relationships can detrimentally affect our well-being. Consequently, it is crucial to consider both aspects: understanding how good relationships foster good health and how a lack of relationships or unhealthy ones can impair our well-being.
The evidence suggests that the greatest risk to health stems from loneliness, making it one of the most significant health challenges today. A substantial proportion of Americans, around 25% according to surveys, report feeling lonely, with even higher numbers among older populations. People who experience loneliness are at higher risk for diseases and face an increased mortality risk. While nurturing positive relationships is likely to safeguard our health, preventing loneliness is even more crucial. Overwhelming feelings of loneliness should never be ignored and should serve as a clear warning sign regarding our health.
Members Only Content
To continue reading please subscribe to WellnessPlus by Dr. Jess MD
Be your own best doctor with our comprehensive suite of online health coaching tools.