5 Reasons Why Good Relationships are Healthy

Heart Social NetworkWe all know how enjoyable it is to have happy times with friends and family. These times are also good for our health. Here’s 5 reasons why:

 

1) They’re good for the heart

Positive experiences with friends and family produce the hormone oxytocin. Research shows that oxytocin helps to lower blood pressure and also helps keep the chemical precursors to cardiovascular disease at bay. It is a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone (protects the cardiovascular system) and therefore good relationships with friends and family are also cardioprotective.

In fact, a 1960’s US census found substantially lower levels of heart disease in people from the town of Roseto. After years of scientific investigation into the seeming anomaly (no one under the age of 50 in the town had ever died of heart disease), it turned out that their social connectedness was they key to this. This was a highly ‘connected’ small town, where everyone knew everyone else and many households had 4 generations of family living there.

 

2) They help us to live longer

Most longevity research in the past has taught us that among the keys to living a long, healthy life are that we eat well, sleep well, exercise well, and manage our stress levels. But more recent research is now telling us that social interaction is actually one of THE most important factors in living a long, healthy life.

In fact, a 2010 study that looked at 188 Australians over the age of 100 found that a close network of family and friends was highly significant in determining their lifespan.

And here’s one for the men: Large-scale studies that compare men in relationships with men who are single show that cardiovascular health is better in married men, and as cardiovascular disease is a major cause of reduced lifespan, being in a relationship actually helps us (especially men) live longer.

 

3) They’re good for our emotional health

Having positive interactions with friends and family make us feel good. We laugh more, we feel joy, we smile more. Our spirits are generally lifted compared with not having these relationships.

Research that examines the connectivity in social networks has found that people who are more connected tend to be happier than people who have less interaction with friends and family.

And an added bonus is that we tend to be contagious when we’re happy; not in the infectious disease way but in that happiness spreads from person to person. It’s known as Emotional Contagion. Positive interactions make us happier and then we spread that happiness in the rest of the interactions we have.

 

4) They buffer the difficult times

Friends and family help us through difficult times in our lives. They provide shoulders to cry on when we’re struggling and they help us to find emotional and spiritual strength. Most people have lent on that shoulder and have also been that shoulder for someone else. The connection is something that is necessary for our thriving.

One study where people were given a stressful task found that they recovered faster if they were simply reminded of some of their positive relationships.

 

5) They’re good for the immune system

Connections with others are important for the human species as a whole. Having relationships actually ensured the survival of our species over millions of years of evolution. It’s why the oxytocin gene (which produces oxytocin and helps us bond with one another) is one of the oldest in the human genome (500 million years old).

It should be no surprise to learn, then, that having good relationships is linked with the immune system, since it is so crucial for the human species.

Indeed, a simple study where 334 volunteers were exposed to the common cold found that those who had strong relationships were about 50% less likely to develop symptoms.

 

References:

Where links are not provided, the references above are taken from my books, ‘Why Kindness is Good for You’ and ‘The Contagious Power of Thinking’.

4 Reasons Why Having Friends is Healthy

Heart Social NetworkI’ve had a lot of help from friends and family recently, from having help with my latest book, to having supportive and encouraging conversations, to having help with moving house.

Earlier this morning, I found myself smiling as I reflected on how grateful I am for having these people in my life. As I reflected while sipping my coffee and looking from the conservatory of my new home out at the beautiful view of the surrounding hills and Stirling castle, my mind drifted towards some of the research around friends and family and the health benefits they bring.

So I decided to share some of this with you. Here’s 4 reasons why having friends is healthy.

 

1) Friends help us live longer, healthier lives

Social contact is one of the strongest predictors of a long life. Research shows that when we analyse the factors – diet, exercise, etc – that are most important in ensuring a long and healthy life, regular social contact comes up time and time again as one of the most important.

In 2010, for instance, researchers at Brigham Young University published their analysis of 148 studies involving 308,849 people of an average age of 63.9 years. These studies looked at the relationship between social relationships and mortality risk. Measuring a period of 7.5 years, they found that people who enjoyed strong social ties had a 50% increased likelihood of survival over this time compared with people with weak or no social ties.

2) Friends help to counter stress

Friends support us through the hard times. They act as buffers to lessen the burden of our personal challenges. Having someone to talk to helps release some of the pent up pain we frequently carry. Friends can be our release-valves.

As the old saying goes, “A problem shared is a problem halved.”

3) Friends improve our happiness

Harvard researchers studied a social network of over 12,000 people and found that the people who were the most ‘connected’ were the happiest. In other words, people who have more social contact tend to be happier.

As well as buffering some of the stress of hard times, friends help us enjoy the everyday moments more and help provide some of the special moments, thereby improving happiness.

4) Friends protect you from heart disease

During a census in the 1960s scientists discovered that the death rate from heart disease of people aged 55-64 was almost zero in the US town of Roseto, and for people over that age it was almost half the national average. No one under the age of 50 had died of heart disease at all. This was vastly different from the rest of the country.

The reason, it turned out, was that they had each other. Residents of Roseto were more ‘connected’ and enjoyed more social contact than people living in most typical towns and cities. It’s known as the Roseto Effect.

Social contact increases levels of the hormone ‘oxytocin’ which, as well as its known roles in breast feeding, digestion, and childbirth, is also a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone (protects the cardiovascular system). Research shows that it lowers blood pressure and also helps reduce levels of some of the chemicals involved in heart disease.

OK, a few people might point out that they know someone who has lots of good relationships but also had a heart attack. As we know, there are many other factors that play a role in heart health – including diet, exercise, and stress – but having good quality relationships goes some way to counteracting the effects.

 

So if you’re looking for ways to find friends, one I’d personally recommend is to get a dog. After we got Oscar in October last year, we started to meet lots of dog owners in the park in the morning, some of whom have become very good friends.

You can also meet new people by taking an evening class, or going to yoga, the gym, volunteering for a charity, or even by going to dance classes.

You can also increase ‘contact’ by striking up conversations with postal workers, shop assistants, or by doing regular acts of kindness.

So if you’re considering some lifestyle changes because you want to be healthier, don’t forget the importance of good quality relationships.

As I once heard Patch Adams say (he’s the doctor featured in the movie whose role was played by the late, Robin Williams), “If you want to be healthy, get good at friends!

 

Notes:

You might find a couple of my related books of some interest:

I covered the social network research, as well as how emotions and contagious from one person to the next, in my book, ‘The Contagious Power of Thinking‘ (Hay House, 2011). Amazon.co.uk  Amazon.com  Amazon.com.au  Amazon.ca

I covered the Roseto Effect, good relationships, and oxytocin in my book, ‘The Five Side Effects of Kindness‘ (Hay House, 2017). Amazon.co.uk  Amazon.com  Amazon.com.au  Amazon.ca

A calm mind speeds up wound healing…..Marital Stress slows it down

Scientists at Ohio State University, Ronald Glaser and Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, created small blisters on the skin of volunteers who were married to each other.

First they asked the married couples to discuss a neutral topic, then they monitored the levels of a protein that is produced during wound healing over the next 3 weeks.

Then they asked the couples to discuss something that they disagreed upon; that would create stress in them both. Again, the scientists monitored the levels of the wound-healing protein. 
Astonishingly, the levels were lower when the couples had disagreed – when they had been stressed.

The effects of calm and stress work at the genetic level. For the wound-healing proteins to be made in the body, a gene must be switched on. Most attitudes of mind produce genetic effects. Neuroplasticity in the brain, where connections are forged between brain cells, requires the activation and deactivation of many genes, and occurs on account of what we focus our minds upon, just as it does when we repetitively move particular muscles. Furthermore, studies in epigenetics imply that prolonged emotional states might even have genetic effects that can be passed on to the next generation.

I like to consider the idea that if I strive to be the best person I can; that is, the most kind, caring, patients, understanding, and tolerant I can be, then perhaps positive genetic effects that come from these prolonged states in me might be passed on to my children.

And don’t worry if you are not in the place right now where you can focus in this way. I have had prolonged times in my past when I’ve been depressed and it’s been extremely hard. I think of it as us constantly writing genetic programs, in terms of which genes are switched on and off. For instance, we activate a stress program when we’re stressed and a calm program when we’re calm. We can teach ourselves ways of being that are healthy in the long-term for both mind and body, and we will activate a program associated with that way.

So any programs running right now, if they are unhealthy, can be deactivated in time. All things eventually change. Stress can be replaced with calm, anger with compassion, and aggression with gentleness.

Loving-Kindness Meditation Can Help Build Relationships

Scientists from Stanford University, publishing in the journal, ‘Emotion’ , showed that meditation that focused on loving kindness increased people’s feelings of social connectedness.

The Tibetan Buddhist ‘Loving-Kindness’ meditation invites practitioners to cultivate a sense of loving kindness, wellness, peace, happiness, and compassion for ourselves, our loved ones, neutral people, and even aggressors in our lives.

It is very common in today’s society for some people to feel disconnected, whether that is spiritually disconnected or even disconnected from people. Many people find that it is difficult to build strong relationships, whether those are friendships or intimate relationships.

The Stanford scientists taught 45 volunteers the meditation. It involved imagining two loved ones standing on either side of them and sending their love. Then they imagined sending those feelings towards a neutral stranger, wishing them health, happiness and love.

Compared with a control group of 48 volunteers, they found that those who did the meditation, even for only a few minutes a day, felt more connected and felt more positive feelings towards others. They also felt much happier.

I have practiced this meditation on numerous occasions and I can say from person experience that it softens you towards others. Relationships of all kinds strengthen because you change, not because another person changes. That is a great secret in life – that rather than trying to change others, when we change ourselves, others often change around us.

Don’t you feel better inside when you wish the best for people? Doing so actually makes us feel happier. This is what it means when people say that happiness is within us. It’s within our ability to choose how we think about things.

This study shows that not only do we feel happier when we wish the best for people, but we actually change our personal relationships for the better.

Here a link if you want to read a PDF of the article http://www-psych.stanford.edu/~psyphy/pdfs/Hutcherson_08_2.pdf

Good Relationships Protect Against Cancer and Heart Disease

Did you know that good relationships are good for your health?

The US National Longitudinal Mortality Study (NLMS) involving 281,460 men and women over 45 years of age it found that marriage was associated with a much lower risk of mortality than being single. Similarly, the British Regional Heart Study of 1995, that involved 7,735 men aged 40-59, found that being single was associated with a higher risk of mortality. However, it is not marriage itself that offers the health benefits. It is the quality of relationship within the marriage that counts. A happy marriage translates to a happy heart.

For instance, a 1986 study found that an unhappy marriage was associated with a 25-fold increase in major depression. But a happy marriage hugely improves the survival chances following congestive heart failure, as another study of 139 men and 50 women found. Many other studies show that good quality relationships can even trump some of the damaging effects of a poor diet and low physical activity levels and offer considerable protection from heart disease. A 2004 study even found that a stable partnership was associated with a slower rate of progression of HIV to AIDS.

Why does this work? There are a number of factors at play. One is that good relationships make us happy and this keeps the scourge of chronic stress at bay. Secondly, poor quality relationships, where our tempers can be inflamed, actually create inflammation inside the body. As it builds up it begins to cause collateral damage to the body’s systems, playing a key role in heart disease and many types of cancer. Good quality relationships probably keep inflammation at much lower, healthier levels. Third, good relationships also produce more of the hormone, oxytocin, in the brain and body. Oxytocin is well known as the hormone associated with childbirth but exciting new research has now revealed that it protects the cardiovascular system from damage, particularly from inflammation and the build up of free radicals. Some evidence even points towards a role in keep breast cancer away.

So it makes a lot of health sense to have good relationships. This does not mean that we need to be married or in a romantic relationship to enjoy the benefits. Relationships with family and friends count. Dissecting the data of many of theses studies reveals that it is the sense of connection and support offered and received that are the key predictors of good health.
Helping anyone in need produces these effects. Do you know of someone suffering right now whom you could help? Maybe only a few words of comfort are needed, or a gentle hand on their shoulder showing that you are here if they need you, or even a hug, or even a phone call to let someone know that they are not alone.

If you don’t have a network of family and friends then go out and join a club or volunteer your time at a charity, or even enroll on a college course in the evenings. These are sure-fire ways of creating more connections in your life, which ultimately are good for your health. We have placed so much importance on good health coming from diet and exercise but evidence is now showing that we must add relationships with each other to the health equation.