Welcome to another edition of the Doctor’s Note where we talk about what’s on our minds when it comes to your health.
In this week’s Note, I want to go outside the box of Performance Medicine’s key pillars of health (i.e., hormones, nutrition, exercise and sleep) and talk about RELATIONSHIPS. You don’t have to have a Ph.D or MD to understand the connection between relationships and health. Just common sense.
Back in the old days, people didn’t have as many relationship problems as they do now. They had their tribe, their extended family, to help share one another’s burdens. Love and security was not in question. Today, we have an isolation movement that has resulted in an overwhelming number of people who say they are lonely. Families have drifted apart. We seldom (if ever) socialize with our neighbors.
Note: According to the Roots of Loneliness Project (updated January 18, 2023), 52% of Americans report feeling lonely while 47% report their relationships with others are not meaningful. https://www.rootsofloneliness.com/loneliness-statistics#loneliness-in-the-us
I came across a unique study a few weeks ago called HARVARD STUDY OF ADULT DEVELOPMENT. It caught my interest when I read it has been ongoing for 85 years, tracking an original group of 724 men and 1300 of their descendants, for over three generations! And they are still tracking them today!
It started out as two separate studies. One was a group of Harvard sophomores, the other a group of inner city Boston boys, 14 years old, all having grown up in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The studies started at about the same time and ended up merging together. The combined two studies have been followed ever since, with an incredible 84% participation rate.
Here’s the unfolding of that story…
The Key To A Healthy Life
As the participants in the study got into their eighties, they decided to step back into the past and look for predictive markers indicating their future well being. They not only looked for health markers, but happiness as well (as they seem to go hand in hand).
Surprisingly, they found in their 50’s, it wasn’t their cholesterol levels, blood pressure, or sugar levels that forecasted their present (80 year old) health and happiness, it was how satisfying their relationships were. Relationship health determined their physical health. Similar studies have confirmed these findings.
Loneliness Is Bad For Your Health
There’s a lot of growing evidence that loneliness is associated with a greater sensitivity to:
- Suppression of the immune system
- Diminished brain function
- Poor sleep
Loneliness is NOT healthy.
One recent study showed that in older adults (65+), loneliness was twice as unhealthy as obesity. That’s astounding because, in my opinion, obesity is our biggest healthcare problem. I know that was just one study, but when you think about it, it’s probably true!
Humans are inherently social creatures. When isolated, our bodies fall into survival mode, which translates: cortisol levels, always UP, autoimmune disease, more frequent; higher risk of heart disease and cancer, and overall, we age faster. Going back to the tribe mentality, not living in relationship with others can be devastating to your health.
The challenges of meeting our social needs are much harder today than they used to be. Look at what happened with Covid over the last three years: ISOLATION. No doubt, Covid played a huge role in our loneliness epidemic. Many more mental and physical illnesses have resulted from that isolation, especially in kids. We’re feeling the after effects of it now. It’s not just Long Covid any more. It’s a lot of mental illness.
The average American spends an astonishing 11 hours a day interacting with media, i.e., television, computers, smart phones. This needs to stop. In addition to its divisive nature in content, it also separates us from human contact, which is equally (if not more so) UNHEALTHY.
The lesson in this Harvard Study was the participant’s revelation in their 70’s and 80’s. Their measure of health and happiness was found in their relationships between friends and family. Never underestimate relationships and their value to your future health.
It’s so easy to be consumed with having enough money in our investment accounts, especially as we get older, but studies show that the best investment you can make is time spent in relationship with others. It’s the investment that has the most impact on your health both mentally and physically.
Take a moment today and think about your relationships and what really matters. Think about the effect you can have on other people. Human connection paves the way to a healthier, happier tomorrow.