When it comes to your body, it’s easy to get caught up in all the stats, the data, the measurements, and the various metrics that help form our health picture.
Weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, waist size. Hey, how’s your fasting glucose? Did you get a solid eight hours of sleep? And, oh, can you believe how many calories that volleyball-sized cinnamon bun has? Number, numbers, and more numbers.
We have a lot of them swirling around in our medical records, in our apps, and in our minds, and yes, they’re all important in their own ways. But let’s not let the statistical stars overshadow a piece of our health puzzle that can have dramatic effects on every other aspect of our lives.
Your family matters. Your friends matter. Your relationships matter.
Your connectedness matters.
In fact, connectedness may very well be one of the most underrated ways we can improve our lives. Coming off a two-year pandemic when social isolation was the norm, we all experienced a first-hand picture of what it feels like to be isolated for extended periods of time.
Now more than ever, we have to think about the role of social connection and why it’s just as vital to your longevity as is diet, exercise, and sleep. Consider that social isolation increases the risk of premature death (of all causes), as well as is associated with high rates of heart disease, dementia, and depression, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Now, this is something most of us inherently know, but it’s not always easy to act upon. Sometimes, we fall into ruts or new habits or mood changes that shift us away from other people instead of toward them. (I get it—a stressful day of work makes it easy to gravitate to a season-long binge of Yellowstone .) If that’s the case, we have to be more mindful about connecting.
My wife, Anne, is the maestro of our family’s social orchestra. She’s so wonderful about pulling together our group of friends—whether it’s with dinner parties or evenings out or to support philanthropic causes. I also have a group of guys that I regularly engage in physical activity with (like mountain biking every Tuesday evening in the summer). All of those things—along with regular visits with my sons and being purposeful about seeing my parents—mean my social life is rich and meaningful. I know I’m healthier for it and feel more satisfied with life because of it.
I think of this idea of connectedness as one of life’s most powerful rechargeable batteries. It can keep giving you strength, energy, joy, and a sense of gratitude and purpose.
In times that feel stressful, overwhelming, and full of challenges, it can be easy to sacrifice “time with others” in favor of “time on the couch tongue-deep in a bowl of pudding.” That can be a mistake (not just the pudding part). Social interaction is no less of a wellness weapon than a daily dose of steamed broccoli.
Being social is medicinal. Being social is powerful. Being social is wonderful—for your body, your mind, and your overall wellness.
One Small Act of Kindness
Recently, I pulled a notecard from my desk and hand-wrote a short note to a professor who helped mentor me in graduate school. I hadn’t talked to him in years, but I wanted to send something to let him know that I was thinking about him and that I was grateful for him.
I hand-write 10 to 15 of these notes every week, and I prefer to use stationery with original art on the front, like ones featuring scenes from Park City, Utah, where I live, as a way to make it really personal.
Could I send an email? Sure. But I don’t want to—because it feels a little more technical than emotional to do it that way and because I don’t want the recipients to feel like they need to write back to me.
Could I make a call? Of course, but sometimes there’s just no time to have long catch-up-on-everything conversations.
Instead, I choose to zip off these quick, personal notes, because I think they matter.
Connection comes in many forms, and today’s social-media world allows us to be linked up in amazing, new ways. (Social media has made it much easier for me to stay friends with some many people I have met in my travels.) But you don’t have to always think about connection as happy hours, liking someone’s post about a new puppy, or heading up a workplace softball team. Though they’re all great too!
A connection can happen with a three-sentence note—giving someone a 30-second moment of joy that likely has benefits that last much longer than that.
This is Us
The pandemic may have changed some of your patterns for regular social interaction. If that’s the case, maybe you just need a nudge to get back going. Some ideas:
If you’re tech-savvy…
Social media can be fun, engaging, and fulfilling (as can be video chats, text messages, etc…). Just don’t let a digital sync-up take the place of an in-person meetup. Maybe even schedule a time every week when you reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in a long time.
If you’d prefer not to use tech…
Sign up for a class or other community events that encourage interaction. Many cities offer meetups for people looking to expand their friendship networks.
If people, well, cause you more stress than not…
Consider adopting a pet. They have excellent health benefits for you too.
If you’re physically active…
Maybe try group classes or a new hobby that requires several people to get together (pickleball, anyone?).
If you’re thinking of an even bigger impact…
Think about volunteering for causes, joining a faith-based organization, or helping out with social-service groups.
How Do You Stay Connected?
What are some of the unique ways you have stayed connected with people around you? I’d love to hear them and maybe even share your ideas in a future newsletter. Email me at DrRobSinnott@AtthePeakofHealth.com