Doctors prescribe social connection to increase your lifespan.

Robin LaBarbera, PhD, DSW
Social connection: doctor's orders(Shutterstock)

“Humans are wired to connect, and this connection affects our health,” doctors Martino, Pegg, and Frates said. They went on to say this about social connection:

“There is significant evidence that social support and feeling connected can help people maintain a healthy body mass index, control blood sugars, improve cancer survival, decrease cardiovascular mortality, decrease depressive symptoms, mitigate posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improve overall mental health.”

The opposite of connection, or social isolation, can have a negative effect on those same symptoms.

It seems that social connections can add years to your life and your health and well-being during the time you have left on this earth. Fostering these connections is critical to health and wellness, according to Drs. Martino et al., and they cite decades of research to support their claims.

Research supports the benefits of social connections.

A meta-analysis of 148 studies involving 308,849 participants (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, & Layton, 2010), for example, reported that human interaction improves our mortality. Their report said that low social interaction is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being an alcoholic, more harmful than not exercising, and twice as harmful as obesity.

And a landmark study in 1979 from researchers Berkman and Syme, based on a random sample of 6928 adults in California over nine years showed that people with strong social ties were three times less likely to die than those who were less connected to others.

What is social connection?

Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, in 1999, published the book, Connect, that focuses on our need for connection. He defined connection as “feeling a part of something larger than yourself, feeling close to another person or group, feeling welcomed, and understood.”

Not only do social connections benefit physiological conditions such as body mass index, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, but impacts our psychological health as well. Numerous studies have proven that socially connected people are at lesser risk for accidents and suicide, depressive symptoms, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Connection is like medicine that helps posttraumatic stress patients escape the grips of fear and anxiety, Drs. Martino et al. said.

Doctors prescribe social connection.

Martino and colleagues propose a “connection prescription” using the mnemonic “FITT.” FITT refers to the frequency (F) of social interactions; the intensity (I) (are they close ties, new connections, family interactions, friends that are positive or negative influences, deep or superficial conversations, feeling of closeness?); the time (T) or duration of the interaction; and the type (T) of interactions (are they experiences with strangers, family gatherings, get-togethers with friends, religious services?).

Experiencing a sense of belonging is powerful, and this critical experience is not possible in isolation.

“Just as we need vitamin C each day, we also need a dose of the human moment—positive contact with other people,” quoted Dr. Martino and colleagues. Connection is a vital human need.

“In today’s age, we live busy lives, trying to strike a balance between work, school, hobbies, self-care and more. Often, our social connections fall by the wayside, according to an article from the Canadian Mental Health Association. By neglecting our need to connect, we put our health at risk, they said.

What about your social connections? What are you doing to care for yourself? If you’re not intentional about social connection, your long-term health and well-being are at stake.

It seems that social connections can add years to your life and your health and well-being during the time you have left on this earth. Fostering these connections is critical to health and wellness, and there's decades of research to support these claims.

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Dr. LaBarbera is a researcher, educator, and social work advocate who is passionate about sharing content that informs, inspires, and empowers individuals to achieve their greatest potential.

Seal Beach, CA

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