One of the best things for your health (and its not a pill)

I’m an introvert. I’ll be the first to admit it. I derive energy from solitude. It’s why I love things like reading, writing, and triathlon. It’s also why I feel wiped after a full day of meetings, events, attending a conference, or anything that involves a high degree of social interaction.

This isn’t to say I don’t like being with people. Quite the contrary. I love a great conversation over a cup of coffee. The only difference is that my dosage is a bit different than an extroverts (the social interaction, not the coffee. I have no idea if there’s any correlation between personality and coffee preferences.)

But even for an introvert, there’s a fine line between personality and avoidance. In other words, when do social interaction preferences lead to social isolation? When we venture into the sphere of isolation and loneliness, both can impact your health, and maybe more than you think.

A recent study (here’s the press release) from researchers at Brigham Young University analyzed 70 studies from 1980 to 2014 that looked at how social isolation and loneliness impacted mortality risk.

Before we get to the results, a few things to keep in mind.

  • Many of the studies they reviewed were with older populations (mean age = 66.0 years).
  • The average follow-up time was 7.1 years, which is significant.
  • 37% of the studies reviewed involved patients with medical conditions.

Okay, to the results. What did the researchers find?

“Social isolation results in higher likelihood of mortality, whether measured objectively or subjectively.”

The effect remained even after controlling for other variables, such as depression.

Okay, now by how much?

“After accounting for multiple covariates, the increased likelihood of death was 26% for reported loneliness, 29% for social isolation, and 32% for living alone.”

Most interestingly, they found the greatest effect among middle-aged adults.

“Middle-age adults were at greater risk of mortality when lonely or living alone than when older adults experienced those same circumstances.”

But, I think the biggest takeaway is this. The researchers, like similar previous studies, found that loneliness and social isolation increased mortality risk just as much as other major risk factors like obesity, physical activity, substance abuse, immunization, and access to health care.

These findings give us a lot to think about. How much of our day or week do we devote to relationships? I’m guilty as any for getting caught up in work or training, sometimes forgoing an opportunity to get together with a friend.

For me, it’s easy to stay in my own world, where things are controlled and predictable. But, every now and then, spend quality time interacting with other people, AND NOT ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Leave the iPhone at home, grab coffee with a friend, and ask how they are doing. And then listen. Be present.

It might just be the best thing for your health.

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One thought on “One of the best things for your health (and its not a pill)

  1. I’ve read studies that say the same thing about how isolating yourself and having minimal social interaction can affect your overall mental health etc. But I think it overlooks a major variable that an observant can’t measure, and that’s an individual’s ability to decide for themselves if they actually feel bad or lonely because they spend more time alone than with others, or if they feel that they SHOULD feel that way about it.
    I’m an introvert, such as yourself, and I know the negative stigma that surrounds the confession of spending more time on my own that interacting with others, but I actually feel happy and good about how I spend my time because I do things that are fulfilling specifically for me.
    I don’t think it’s helpful for big studies like these to be broadcast to the population, because it creates unnecessary stress and anxiety about the possibility that if someone doesn’t get out there and socialize, despite how little they enjoy it, they will experience negative side-effects and emotional instability or mental anxiety somewhere in the hypothetical future. It’s giving people the message that if they want to live longer, they must put themselves in more social environments, but the thing is, that doesn’t necessarily align with what creates a happy mind and soul, for every person, which is what will ultimately increase longevity.
    I hope you check out some of my views @ http://www.getresurgatized.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

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