For many of us, the holidays offer an opportunity to gather with family and friends, and participate in community and workplace activities. Social connections like these not only give us pleasure, they also influence our health. People who have satisfying relationships have been shown to be happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. In contrast, having few social ties is associated with depression, cognitive decline, and premature death, reports the December 2010 issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch.
Social connections help relieve harmful levels of stress, which can harm the heart's arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system. Another "connected" way to ease stress is with caring behaviors, which trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones. This is encouraging news, because caring for others may be an easy health strategy to access.
When it comes to health, both the quality and quantity of relationships matter. In one study of midlife women, those who were in highly satisfying marriages had a lower risk for cardiovascular disease than those in less satisfying marriages. Other studies have linked negative interactions with family and friends with poorer health. Having a network of important relationships can also make a difference. One study concluded that dementia risk was lowest among individuals with a variety of satisfying contacts.
During the holidays, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirl of social activities and perhaps lose track of their deeper purpose: providing an opportunity for people to come together, notes Harvard Women’s Health Watch. This holiday season, take time to foster your most meaningful relationships. Choose activities that are most likely to bring joy to you and the people you care about. Delegate or discard tasks that eat into your time, or do them with family or friends.
Read the full-length article: "The health benefits of strong relationships"