Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
1) The Problem of Overseeing the Importance of Social Connection
We often do not recognize the importance of social connection. Our culture values hard work, success, and wealth, so it’s no surprise some of us do not set aside enough time for social ties when we think security lies in material things rather than other people.¹
2) The Problem of Loneliness
Olds and Schwartz (Associate Clinical Professors of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School) argue in The Lonely American that loneliness is often mistaken for depression. Instead of connecting with others, we consume a pill. Being lonely is outside of our individualistic world view so we don’t even see it as a problem. ¹
3) More Social Connection = More Active Democracy
Harvard’s Robert Putnam writes about social capital in his book, Bowling Alone, and shows how social ties are not only important for personal well-being, but also for our democracy. To paraphrase Putnam, “the culture in which people talk to each other over the back fence is the culture in which people vote.” Apparently, when you feel part of a group, you’re more likely to contribute to it — such as by voting. ¹
4) Social Connection Is Central to Progressive Social Change
UC Berkeley’s George Lakoff has said that we can only bring about progressive social change by evoking empathy. You can’t get people to change by loading them up with facts or shaking your finger at them. You must talk to others with respect and caring — and then you connect. Social capital is thus central to progressive social change. ¹
5) More Social Connection = Better for the Environment
Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben says that we won’t have sustainability without community. Until we see other people as our main source of security, we’ll keep turning to things, using up oil and other resources and heating and polluting the planet. Until we have community in our neighborhoods, we’ll keep going to the mall for our evening’s entertainment. ¹
6) More Social Connection = More Happiness
In the book The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies, by Robert E. Lane, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Yale, he brings together much of the research done on social capital over the last several years and shows how social ties not only affect our personal health, but also our societal health. He observes that as prosperity in a society increases, social solidarity decreases. Happiness not only declines, people become more distrustful of each other as well as their political institutions. Lane argues that we must alter our priorities; we must increase our levels of companionship even at the risk of reducing our income. ¹
7) Social Integration = Reduced Mortality Risks and Better Mental Health
A search of the literature published since the mid-1970s (under the MEDLINE key words, “social ties,” “social network,” “social isolation,” “social environment”) presented strong evidence that social integration leads to reduced mortality risks, and to a better state of mental health. … Available data suggest that, although social integration is generally associated with better health outcomes, the quality of existing ties also appears to influence the extent of such health benefits. Clearly, individuals’ networks of social relationships represent dynamic and complex social systems that affect health outcomes.²
8) Social Isolation and Nonsupportive Social Interactions = Lower Immune Function and Higher Heart Rate
Social isolation and nonsupportive social interactions can result in lower immune function and higher neuroendocrine and cardiovascular activity while socially supportive interactions have the opposite effects. ²
9) Strong Social Relationships = A Longer Life
Researchers analyzed 148 studies that examined the effect of social relationships and death risk. Together, these studies included 308,849 people who were followed for about 7.5 years on average. People were 50% more likely to be alive if they had strong social relationships. This finding held regardless of age, gender, or health status and for all causes of death.³
10) Seniors Living in Better Social Conditions are Also Physically More Mobile
In a study of 14,000 adults in Southeastern Pennsylvania, after measuring the levels of mobility among the seniors living in those neighborhoods, it was found that those living in areas with greater social capital had significantly higher physical mobility scores than those living in lower social capital neighborhoods.4
11) More Social Connection in Your Neighborhood = More Likely to Treat Diseases Earlier
In a study looking at how social capital related to positive health-seeking behavior – specifically getting recommended cancer screenings – although this study was not focused only on the elderly, it was found that in neighborhoods with higher levels of social capital, adults were 10-22 percent more likely to get screened at the recommended ages, suggesting earlier diagnoses and treatment for serious diseases.4
12) More Social Connection = Better Cognitive Functioning
In a study that looked at how social activity affected cognitive decline, over 1,100 seniors without dementia at baseline were measured on their social activity levels and then tested periodically on their cognitive functioning over a 12-year period. The rate of cognitive decline was 70 percent less in people with frequent social contact than those with low social activity.4
13) More Social Connection = Lower Levels of Disability
In a study that looked at a community-based cohort of older people free of dementia and measured social activity levels and their disability levels—in terms of their ability to care for themselves, findings showed that those with more frequent social activity maintained lower levels of disability in several areas, suggesting that they would be able to live independently longer than their less social counterparts.4
14) Social Isolation = Increased Mortality Risk
There is now a substantial body of evidence that indicates that the extent to which social relationships are strong and supportive is related to the health of individuals who live within such social contexts. A review of population-based research on mortality risk over the last 20 years indicates that people who are isolated are at increased mortality risk from a number of causes.
–Source: Lisa F. Berkman, “The Role of Social Relations in Health Promotion.” Psychosomatic Medicine.
15) 12 Ways Loneliness Is Bad for Your Health
According to the research of Dr. John Cacioppo, loneliness has a major impact on your overall health – both mental and physical.
In his research, Dr. Cacioppo employed brain scans, monitoring of autonomic and neuroendocrine processes, and assays of immune function to test the influence that social connection has upon our health. His research showed how our perceptions, behavior and physiology are strongly affected by a loss of that connection.
Dr. Cacoppo’s research has shown that loneliness can cause:
- an increase in your blood pressure
- an increase in your level of stress and cortisol production
- a negative impact on your immune system
- an inability to get a good night’s sleep
- an increased level of depression and anxiety
- an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease
- a reduction in your will to exercise
- an increase in your cravings for comforting foods high in processed carbohydrates
- an increase in caloric consumption
- an increase in alcohol consumption
- an increase in the consumption of a variety of drugs…both legal and illegal, and…
- a feeling of sadness that feeds upon itself, causing even more isolation and an even greater sense of loneliness.
Source: Douglas Robb, “Loneliness Worse for Your Health than Smoking and Obesity.” Health Habits.
¹ Cecile Andrews, “Social Ties are Good for You.” Stanford University.
² Teresa E. Seeman, “Social Ties and Health: The Benefits of Social Integration.” Annals of Epidemiology: The Official Journal of the American College of Epidemiology.
³ Denise Mann, “Social Ties Can Add Years to Your Life.” WebMD.
4 Jill Suttie, “How Social Connections Keep Seniors Healthy.” Greater Good: The Science of a More Meaningful Life.