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Strong Social Connections Boost Your Health and Longevity

February 26, 2024

Group of women laughing and hugging.

Did you know that the relationships in your life give you much more than companionship? Research shows that having healthy connections with other people also has a profound impact on your long-term health and longevity.

“Positive relationships trigger a cascade of physiological responses that benefit your health,” says Brenda Matti-Orozco, MD, an internal medicine physician who specializes in palliative care at Atlantic Health System. “When you feel loved, supported and connected, your body releases hormones like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. These boost your immune system, reduce the stress hormone cortisol and make you feel happy. They also make social connections rewarding.”

As an example, Dr. Matti refers to the tight-knit communities in the world’s five blue zones. Blue zones are home to some of the oldest people on Earth, where it’s not uncommon to live a quality life to age 100 and beyond. In these geographic regions, life centers around social interaction to prepare healthy meals, raise resilient children and build strong communities.

The Effects Social Ties Have on Your Physical and Mental Health

Strong social connections help lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation and improve cardiovascular health. Research has shown that people with robust social support networks are less likely to develop chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and even certain types of cancer.

The impact on mental health is equally as significant. Strong social connections buffer against depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. A sense of belonging and validation fosters personal growth and a resilient mindset to help you navigate life’s challenges.

Tips to Cultivate Healthy Relationships

  1. Prioritize communication. Express appreciation, actively listen and swiftly resolve conflicts to create mutual understanding and trust. Stay in touch.
  2. Express empathy. Strive to understand another’s perspective, validate their emotions and offer support without judgment.
  3. Invest time and energy. IEngage in shared stories and activities that create memories with the important people in your life.
  4. Be vulnerable. Authenticity and vulnerability deepen bonds, so share your thoughts, feelings and experiences openly, and be open so others can do the same.
  5. Support and encourage. During life’s ups and downs, acts of kindness and compassion strengthen relational ties and nurture a relationship.

“My mother-in-law, Angelina, was a great example of how social relationships have contributed to her longevity,” says Dr. Matti. “She recently passed at 98 years old, with 24 grandchildren and 36 great grandchildren. Her large family was devoted to her, and she had constant companionship. That’s what sustained her to remain vibrant, engaged and fully aware, despite her health issues, until the last few days of her life.”

Dr. Matti encourages people at all ages to find ways to connect to others. “In this world that is becoming increasingly digital, participation is so important. Building and maintaining connections to friends, family and social groups takes an investment of time and effort, but it has big health payoff as you age.”

Those payoffs can be not only a longer lifespan, but a healthier one. “It’s about living a quality life for as long as you possibly can,” says Dr. Matti. “I am trying to follow in my mother-in-law’s footsteps by staying connected to family, my colleagues and even my medical school classmates and friends. When we get together, we laugh at the same stories we’ve been telling for years — and it’s good for my soul.”

  • Mental Wellness
  • Senior Health
  • Healthy Living