When you think of self-care, you probably think of healthy eating, daily exercise, and a nice bubble bath at the end of a long day. While your body will love you for those things, your heart, mind, and soul will love you for another crucial aspect of self-care—community!
Humans are social creatures—some more than others—and even the most introverted introvert needs a good friend. Maintaining healthy relationships and social connections is important for longevity.
Loneliness rates are on the rise due to pandemic-induced isolation, according to recent studies. One study found a link between social isolation and increased blood clotting protein levels, which can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
Let’s put an end to this loneliness epidemic and start living longer, healthier lives.
Understanding Healthy Aging
We start aging the moment we are born—our bodies get worn down from time and use. If you want to live a long, healthy life, there are plenty of ways to take care of yourself.
The three pillars of healthy aging are nutritional diets, regular exercise, and active friendships. This journey requires proactive efforts to maintain these pillars because we live in a society where it’s easy to roll through a drive-through, sit on the couch and watch Netflix, and self-isolate as you doom-scroll on social media.
The Power of Relationships in Longevity
Researchers from Harvard have been conducting one of the world’s longest studies on adult development. For the last 80 years, they have been examining what factors make people lead happy and healthy lives. Robert Waldringer, the study’s director, said that the clearest message they’ve seen from this study is: “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
Waldringer discusses the three major lessons they are learning about relationships in his viral TED Talk.
Social connections are good for us, and loneliness kills us.
Research shows that people who have strong social connections with family, friends, and their community tend to be happier, healthier, and live longer lives compared to those who are less connected. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the population, over one in five Americans, experiences loneliness, which can lead to early declines in health and cognitive function, as well as shorter lifespans.
It's the quality–not quantity– of your close relationships that matters.
High-conflict relationships, particularly in marriages lacking affection, can have detrimental effects on health–potentially worse than divorce. On the other hand, nurturing good, warm relationships provides a protective effect. Harvard’s research proves how satisfied individuals are in their relationships at midlife is a better predictor of their health and happiness in their later years than factors like cholesterol levels. Strong, satisfying relationships appear to lessen the negative effects of aging, while unhappy relationships can worsen physical and emotional pain in old age.
Good relationships don't just protect our bodies—they protect our brains.
Strong, securely attached relationships have a positive impact on brain health, particularly as we age. Individuals who feel they can rely on their partner during times of need tend to maintain sharper memories for a longer period. Even if couples occasionally argue or bicker, as long as they have a deep sense of trust and support, these disagreements do not significantly affect their cognitive function.
The Significance of Community
The benefits of having a community are nearly endless. Let’s break it down to how the role of community can affect your life.
Emotional Support Networks
Community acts as a safety net of emotional support, providing companionship and understanding during life's ups and downs. These networks are crucial for people as they offer a sense of belonging and solidarity, helping to combat loneliness and depression, which can otherwise hinder the path to healthy aging.
Access to Resources
Communities are rich with resources, from shared knowledge about health and wellness practices to assistance with everyday tasks. In close-knit communities, people can tap into the collective wisdom and practical help that can make their aging journey smoother and more comfortable.
Opportunities for Social Engagement
As we age, staying socially active is vital for cognitive health and overall well-being. Communities provide an array of opportunities for social engagement, whether through clubs, group activities, or community events. These interactions promote mental stimulation, preventing cognitive decline, and fostering a sense of purpose.
Building and Nurturing Community
Building and maintaining a supportive community is a lifelong journey that can significantly enhance your quality of life and contribute to healthy aging. Ask yourself if your social needs are being met. If they’re not–what are those needs? Companionship, support, intimacy? Each of our social needs is unique to ourselves and our journey. Here are some ideas to find the social engagement you may be missing:
- Join a local organization or club (pickleball, book club)
- Volunteer for community projects
- Attend social gatherings and events
- Start a supper club
- Or simply, call up an old friend
Let this be your sign to take that leap of faith and put yourself out there–your health depends on it!