We've all heard that there are benefits to having strong social connections, but what are they? New research published in PLOS Medicine found that strong social relationships increase the likelihood of survival by 50 percent. This is a significant and relevant finding since social companionship is a widespread problem and the size of the average American's core social network has been on the decline since 1985. People are more socially isolated and lonely today in spite of social media connections. Obviously these connections are not the same as close, deep, and intimate relationships. Not only can friends and family relationships improve our physical health, but relationship quality can improve our mood, motivation and coping skills. In fact, researchers have also found that children who experience emotionally significant bonds tend to have better health in childhood and beyond. So do people really live longer as a result of close emotional connections?
Researchers focused on a country off the coast of Italy (Sardinia) that has the highest longevity of any other country and looked at the various factors tied to their long life spans. Although we might assume their longevity is due mostly to their diet, physical activity, habits, etc., those factors were not at the top of the list. The two most significant factors for longevity in Sardinia are social integration and close relationships. People live longer because they have a strong social network and a tight-knit community of people who look out for each other and care for one another. They share a cappuccino with each other, value time together, share stories, and support each other. We all need to take note of this and place greater emphasis on building connections and valuing our relationships. Whether they are personal or professional relationships, people need people. When we share our burdens and our accomplishments with one another, it makes life a little easier. Community breeds connection which leads to a healthier and longer life.
There are many ways to expand and deepen our connections with the people around us. For starters, we need to be willing to be the initiator and reach out to people who we enjoy but who we see only sporadically. Initiate sharing a meal together. Reach out to someone who enjoys the type of exercise as you and work out or run or play golf together. We may have similar religious or organizations that we are affiliated with and can connect through our shared interests and beliefs. Maybe our children are friends or share in the same activities and we connect through time spent at practice or games. We may work together and have similar training and professional experiences that create a connection. There are many ways to connect with people, but there has to be a desire and intentional effort to pursue the connection. If you want to experience better physical and emotional health, live longer, and develop greater coping skills, make the effort to connect with people. Living life with a strong network leads to a more fulfilling, happy, and possibly even a longer life.