Call a Friend Today – Science Says Social Connections are Good for Your Health

“When ‘I’ is replaced with ‘we,’ even illness becomes wellness[1].”

Human beings have always recognized themselves as social creatures. From an evolutionary standpoint, survival depended on social structure and being part of a group.

But in recent decades, evidence regarding the link between social connections and physical health has been mounting. A 2015 meta-study linked loneliness with a 45% increased risk of dying. By contrast, obesity only accounts for a 20% increase[2]. Unfortunately, society has evolved in such a way that increasing numbers of people describe themselves as socially isolated. As we sacrifice our connections with friends and family, loneliness could become a major public health threat.

Research around this topic goes back decades. Among some of the most intriguing studies are those that have shown that social rejection triggers the same parts of the brain as physical pain[3]. A 1988 study reported that lack of social connections could have more of a negative impact on health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure[4]. Another study, completed at UCLA in 2010, linked stress brought on by social rejection with increased inflammation in the body[5].

The problem of social isolation appears to be more significant among the elderly who are no longer in the workplace and may not live near family members. Those with dementia report even higher levels of loneliness than their peers[6].

How can you avoid or reverse social isolation and loneliness? By all indications, it is the quality rather than quantity of social connections that matters, so having just one or two friends or family members with whom you socialize can yield positive results. Face-to-face contact is preferable, but if you live apart from friends and family, try at the very least to maintain regular telephone contact.

If you are physically able to get around, consider joining a club or a gym, attend religious services, participate in your favorite hobby to meet like-minded people, volunteer, or join a support group. If you are unable to travel on your own, look for community-based and faith organizations, many of which offer resources such as friendly visitors who check up on the homebound.

The effort to remain connected to others can be challenging. But in the long run, these connections will improve your quality of life and may even help you live longer.

Here are some resources to help you get and stay involved:

www.destinationaccessible.com offers detailed accessibility descriptions of leisure locations.

https://parks.ny.gov/admission/empire-passport/ offers discounted rates to New York state parks.  Also take note that those 62+ can access at NYS parks for free and reduced rates just with their NYS ID.

 

[1] Quote attributed to Malcolm X.
[2] Brene Brown: America’s Crisis of Disconnection Runs Deeper than Politics; Fast Company, September 12, 2017. https://www.fastcompany.com/40465644/brene-brown-americas-crisis-of-disconnection-runs-deeper-than-politics
[3] Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain; Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, March 28, 2011. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/03/22/1102693108
[4] Social relationships and health; Science Magazine, July 29, 1988. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/241/4865/540
[5] Neural sensitivity to social rejection is associated with inflammatory responses to social stress; Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, August 17, 2010. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20679216
[6] Only the Lonely: Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation in Dementia; Unforgettable, https://www.unforgettable.org/blog/only-the-lonely-dealing-with-loneliness-and-isolation-in-dementia/

You Are What You Eat

You Are What You Eat. Choose a Diet That’s Good for Your Health.

What does diet have to do with health? Quite a bit, according to the experts. Generally speaking, it is well documented that lifestyle factors including smoking, exercise and healthy eating contribute significantly to a person’s risk of developing the most serious and common health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Many studies have also linked diet with the delayed onset or prevention of chronic health conditions. March is Nutrition Month, and in recognition, we have summarized some of the recent research around diet and health for you.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes fish, nuts, fruit and vegetables. A 2013 study found that women who followed the Mediterranean Diet in their 50s had fewer memory problems and fewer chronic illnesses as they aged. 

The DASH Diet

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is an eating plan developed to lower high blood pressure and reduce levels of LDL, the so-called “bad” cholesterol. Recent research has also linked the DASH diet to reduced rates of some kinds of cancer, stroke, heart disease, heart failure, kidney stones, and diabetes. The diet is centered on eating fruits, vegetables, low fat or nonfat dairy, whole grains, lean meats, fish and poultry, nuts and beans.

Preventing Diabetes

Evidence shows that lifestyle changes focusing primarily on diet and exercise can help individuals with pre-diabetes avoid the progression to diabetes. Selecting whole grains over processed grains and lean proteins such as nuts, beans and fish over red meat and processed meats are known to help prevent diabetes. Other dietary habits that can help include avoiding refined carbohydrates – think breads, cakes, white rice, pasta and potatoes – as well as sugary drinks.

The Future: Precision Nutrition

The newest breakthroughs in nutrition research concern precision nutrition. Because individual responses to dietary changes may vary from person to person, precision nutrition is focused on creating specific dietary plans based on an individual’s physical and environmental factors such as DNA, microbiome, metabolism, health history and lifestyle. Current research is exploring the use of precision nutrition in diabetes prevention.

So What Should I Eat?

Every diet wosaladn’t work for every person. Individual food preferences, convenience, access to fresh fruits and vegetables, time to prepare healthy foods, and a multitude of other factors may affect the success of a particular diet plan. If you are looking to improve your health, lose weight or just eat better, experts tend to agree on a few basic dietary guidelines.

  • Reduce your consumption of red meat
  • Eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruit
  • Choose lean protein sources
  • Limit fats, sweets and processed carbohydrates

Generally what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. A qualified nutritionist or your primary care physician can provide additional guidance on what will constitute a healthy diet for you.

Bon appetit!