I give lectures to a variety of groups and often include a section on the profound importance of prioritizing relationships.
When I do, I share the findings of a favorite study I came across a few years back.
In July 2010, the Public Library of Science Medicine (PLOS) published a meta-analysis (or review) of 148 studies on the link between relationships and health: Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review.
As the authors write in the “Background” section of the paper:
“Humans are naturally social. Yet, the modern way of life in industrialized countries is greatly reducing the quantity and quality of social relationships. Many people in these countries no longer live in extended families or even near each other…Many also delay getting married and having children. Likewise, more and more people of all ages in developed countries are living alone, and loneliness is becoming increasingly common…over the past two decades there has been a three-fold increase in the number of Americans who say they have no close confidants. There is reason to believe that people are becoming more socially isolated.”
I share this concern, and remedying it is central to the work I do with others. I work closely with a wide variety of people as a physician and as a coach, and continually strive to help people prioritize their relationships in the face of a relentless onslaught of ever-increasing work demands and other seemingly endless distractions.
When you get to the end of your life, you won’t wish you spent more time online or working. You’ll wish you’d had more time with the people you love. You’ll wish you spent more time cultivating strong, meaningful relationships and making memories that live on after you’re gone.
The studies examined by the PLOS meta-analysis, when combined together, totaled 300,000 people and over 100 years of research.
So what did they find?
People who have stronger social relationships experienced a 50% increase in survival rates.
Not only that, they found that with respect to impacting longevity/survival, the quality of a person’s social networks was more important than exercising regularly or losing weight (if the person was significantly overweight).
They even found that having a healthy social network had as much of an impact on a person’s longevity as a smoker would achieve by quitting smoking. Since reading that, I’ve joked that if you’re a smoker and are having a hard time quitting, just spend more time with your family and friends (though of course, I would still recommend quitting!).
Here’s what the authors concluded:
“Although further research is needed to determine exactly how social relationships can be used to reduce mortality risk, physicians, health professionals, educators, and the media should now acknowledge that social relationships influence the health outcomes of adults and should take social relationships as seriously as other risk factors that affect mortality.”
In other words, those of us who speak into people’s lives should consider the quality of their social relationships to be as critical as other health-impacting risk factors such as smoking, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition. That’s a big deal, and not something that’s widely on people’s radar, at least not in my experience.
What I particularly love about all this, is that spending more time with the people that matter most, and strengthening the quality of your relationships, is way more appealing and in many ways easier than making major lifestyle changes (like losing weight or quitting smoking). Not that you should forego making other key changes to improve your health, but spending more time with loved ones IS a key health-impacting behavior. It IS a key lifestyle change.
Spending quality time with key people not only lengthens your life, but also boosts your mood and helps to prevent burnout. Anyone can testify to the fact that spending time with a beloved friend or family member gives you a great boost. You laugh together, connect, cry together, do life together. It is profoundly human, and it is so good for us. So good for us, in fact, that it makes us physically healthier and adds years to our lives.
Who do you need to make more time for?
Start saying no to the low-value items in your life that clamor for your attention.
Make room for what, and who, matters most.
Susan Biali, M.D. is a medical doctor, wellness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, and flamenco dancer. She has been featured as an expert on the Today Show, as well as other major media outlets, and is available for keynote presentations, workshops/retreats, and private coaching.
Copyright Dr. Susan Biali 2016