The Science of Love: Why Social Relationships Are Important For Your Health

This is the first in a two part series on the effects of love, interactions and relationships, with respect to your health. Let’s dive right in!

Just like obesity, smoking and physical activity, social relationships impact our social health, and as such should take center-stage in the widespread cultural self-awareness campaigns. Besides subtle direct effects, a relationship influences your physical, dietary and social habits. The kind of communication and relationship that exists between a patient and a caregiver largely influence the recovery process (Landis, et al, 2008). In today’s article, we’ll take a look at how social relationships affect our physical, mental and social health.

Cardiovascular health is a crucial part of your physical well-being. Partners in fulfilling relationships are less likely to experience heart problems. According to a 2010 study by researchers in the Chicago University, people in a steady relationship are less prone to psychological stress. This is due to suppressed levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, whose effects include dilation of blood vessels and increased heart rate. Children from loving homes are also less likely to experience symptoms of physical illness. Experts believe that this is because proper parental bonds boost our immunity (Murray, et al, 2001). It is evident that the health benefits accrued from a healthy social life help reduce the occurrence of physical ailments in old age too. Relationships are also known to impact our cholesterol levels, weight gain and sleep patterns.

Loving relationships have been known to help victims of mental diseases recover better, and reduce the isolation associated with these diseases. While starting and maintaining relationships could be a challenge, those that put themselves out there are known to make full recovery from episodic attacks (Cacioppo, 2016). With a strong social support network, you are less likely to get depressed. In one study, researchers established that young adults in relationships are less likely to develop mood disorders, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and psychological distress. While social ties affect our mental health, we should note that the relationship between the two is symbiotic, and one shouldn’t always blame their failing mental health on a toxic relationship.

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From childhood, our interactions with those around us (immediate family) dictates how we will handle social situations in future. Infants are sensitive to the social activities going around them, especially parental treatment. This will influence their decisions regarding interactions. Children from loving families are less likely to engage in bullying, or even be victims of bullying in school. They are therefore able to focus on their studies. Quality parenting leads to better development in the kids (Berkman & Kawachi, 2001). Those who grow up in loving families are also more likely to maintain proper relationships as they grow up, thus they avoid psychological stress. This is because a loving environment plants honesty and trust. Finally, individuals with caring partners are less likely to engage in detrimental social habits such as smoking and alcoholism.

One subject of interest regarding interactions and health is the bond between a medical practitioner and the patients. In various blind studies, a consistent pattern exists. Patients who have formed a strong and positive bond with their caregiver improve much sooner than those who didn’t. Physical contact between the practitioner and patient also play a role since the doctor could diagnose symptoms easily by adding touch (Hatzmann, et al, 2008). Patients of heart disease recovering from a procedure also recover faster if they have a supportive spouse, a trend also seen in those trying to recover from a functional disability. A loving companion helps them accomplish daily activities to keep them going.

It is, therefore, important to maintain healthy relationships with our family and friends, as this results in various health benefits, particularly in our golden years. The great news is, it is never too late to start a new relationship. Here are a few ways you could form new, meaningful social connections:

  • Join a volunteer program- connect with like-minded people, doing what you enjoy with a purpose.
  • Call a friend- this could be someone who makes you laugh, or with whom you have common interests.
  • Engage in your preferred faith group- they have activities for every person, this gives you ways to connect.
  • Use social networking sites to build a circle of friends- sites like meetup.com which offers users around the world the opportunity to join groups brought together by a common interest.
  • Join a class- If you are interested in learning a new language or craft, join a class. This will help you connect with many people who share a common interest.

Reference

  1. House, J. S., Landis, K. R., & Umberson, D. (2008). Social relationships and health. Science, 241(4865), 540.
  2. Bennett, S. J., Perkins, S. M., Lane, K. A., Deer, M., Brater, D. C., & Murray, M. D. (2001). Social support and health-related quality of life in chronic heart failure patients. Quality of life research, 10(8), 671-682.
  3. Uchino, B. N., Cacioppo, J. T., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2016). The relationship between social support and physiological processes: a review with emphasis on underlying mechanisms and implications for health. Psychological bulletin, 119(3), 488
  4. Kawachi, I., & Berkman, L. F. (2001). Social ties and mental health. Journal of Urban health, 78(3), 458-467.
  5. Hatzmann, J., Heymans, H. S., Ferrer-i-Carbonell, A., van Praag, B. M., & Grootenhuis, M. A. (2008). Hidden consequences of success in pediatrics: parental health-related quality of life—results from the Care Project. Pediatrics, 122(5), e1030-e1038.

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