It can be argued that health is the most precious asset a person can have. It makes sense when you think about it. Good health opens doors to so many other enjoyable options. Sports, travel, dating, family activities, raising children, and most other aspects of our lives can only be enjoyed completely when we are healthy. Money, achievements, and possessions cannot give us the same pleasure that health affords, or we can’t use them to their fullest potential without health.
In our current society, the crusade for health is always a concern, dominating the media in magazines, commercials, and news. The pursuit of optimal health in these modern times has led to the creation of whole industries dedicated to diet, exercise, and developing willpower or some combination of the three. The benefits of diet and exercise have been studied, tried, and tested, showing amazing results, and yet the combination of diet and exercise alone all too often comes up short. Our abundant society with all of our accomplishments still hasn’t managed to attain a truly superior state of health. Why?
One reason might be that in our pursuit of ever better exercise routines and more perfect diets we overlook an incredibly basic health factor—our relationships.
We all know intuitively that heart disease, smoking, alcoholism, and obesity are unhealthy and should be avoided, and yet multiple studies around the world confirm that happy relationships can have a larger impact on our overall health than diet or exercise.
Loneliness, heart ache, and abusive relationships are not only detrimental to our emotional and mental wellbeing, but damage our overall physical health too.
“Social Relationships, or the relative lack thereof, constitute a major risk factor for health - rivaling the effect of well established health risk factors such as cigarette smoking, blood pressure, blood lipids, obesity, and [certain types of] physical activity” (House, Landis, and Umberson, Science, 1988). This 1988 study, involving over 308,849 people followed over 7.5 years, found these results and many studies since have continued to uphold them. We need to feel connected to the people around us to achieve optimal health.
This idea could and should dramatically change the way we prioritize our health goals. This doesn’t preclude the need for proper diet and healthy exercise; these pursuits are still valid and are in no way diminished. Our health continues to depend on our activity levels and monitoring what we put into our bodies. But we now know that our previous efforts at good health are enhanced by including strong, vital, living relationships.
A circle of close friends and strong family ties can boost a person’s health more than exercise, losing weight, or quitting smoking and drinking alcohol. So, why not exercise with a friend or a family member? How much better would healthy eating goals be if they were a combined effort entire families or close groups of friends got behind? If a healthy lifestyle strengthens family bonds and family bonds increase health benefits, then there’s no downside to including those we love in our health.
Having a good relationship stirs the soul, soothes the mind, and gives health a boost as well. If lengthening life and increasing the quality of life can be accomplished with such a simple solution, can any of us claim truthfully that we are too busy, too set in our ways, too shy, or too tired to spend time accruing friendships and family ties? Can a health conscious person still choose to be lonely? Can we still focus on diet and exercise while excluding or limiting strong interpersonal relationships? Absolutely not!
Let’s all get out there and improve our health by making friends and reaching out to loved ones, family or otherwise. Let’s make, and sit down to, healthy meals with people who love us. Let’s discover exercise buddies who can motivate and inspire us while we return the favor. Let’s make a quick phone call to a friend, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, cousin, father, or mother before heading out for a jog or hitting the gym. That call will improve your workout.
Our lives, or at least the quality of our lives, may very well depend on it.
Learn more about Charlie Pulsipher
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