A healthy relationship is one of life’s greatest forms of medicine.
As a health coach, you might think my main job is helping people eat healthier or exercise more. While that is certainly a piece of the puzzle, I often ask my clients as well about their social life. Few realize that there is so much more to our health and well being than diet and exercise. You can drink all the matcha green smoothies and salads until the sun shines ,but if you lack a positive social life, you might be doing more harm than good.
In fact numerous studies have documented the negative consequences of a solitary life and can even equate it to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
But on this Valentine’s Day 2022, let’s focus on the positive.
Relationships play a HUGE role in how healthy and happy we are, and is one of the main predictors to living a long and healthy life.
Here are just a small list of the positive benefits of good relationships:
- Lower rates of anxiety and depression
- Higher self-esteem and confidence
- Lower blood pressure
- Better ❤️ health
- Improved immune system
- Longer life expectancy
- Higher pain threshold
- Less dementia
- Quicker recovery & healing
- Reduced stress
While the benefits of social connections are numerous, it is important to remember that these can come in many forms (not just romantic love). The relationships we form with other people, whether they are our children, parents, spouse, family, partner, friends or coworkers are vital not only to our physical health but our mental and emotional well being as well.
I think for many of us, we’ve seen first hand how important our sense of community really is over these past two years. Being isolated from friends and family members has had a detrimental effect on not just our physical health, but our mental health as well. Humans are social creatures by nature.
Most humans want to feel like they have a purpose in life or that they are doing something good for others. A healthy relationship, regardless of the type, gives a person that sense of well being and purpose and in turn can add years to one’s life.
“Every one of us is trying to find our true home. Some of us are still searching. Our true home is inside, but it’s also in our loved ones around us. When you’re in a loving relationship, you and the other person can be a true home for each other.”Thich Nhat Hanh
There are a number of prominent scientific studies that back up the fact that relationships are crucial for our overall health. One of my favorites that was introduced to me during my health studies, is called the Blue Zones. In the Blue Zones, a journalist set out to discover what were the common factors that allowed certain communities around the world to live the longest and healthiest lives.
And while some are not that earth shattering, others might just surprise you:
- eating well,
- staying active,
- prioritizing rest and sleep
- having a sense of purpose
- bolstering family and relationships
Since it’s Valentine’s Day, let’s talk about the latter – relationships!
For expats, finding people you can relate to can be challenging in a foreign country, but can make a positive impact on your health and well being for years to come. It is important to find something… a book club, social club, fitness tribe or religious faith group that can help you feel connected regardless of your zip code or country code. When you’re with people who share your belief system and meet with them regularly, you feel that sense of purpose and community.
Eat To Live, Not Live to Eat
People living in the Blue Zones are known for eating mostly plant based diets (along with a bit of alcohol), but it’s much more that what is on their plate than who they are sharing it with. In the Blue Zones, mealtimes are shared with others – mainly loved ones It becomes an opportunity for connection and a time for gratitude for all of the good things in our lives. Remember to take the time to chew your food, enjoy the company, and relax.
Numerous studies show that eating together not only is an important aspect of family life, but helps make weight control easier. It is also one of the biggest predictors to how well a child does in life (meals eaten with family). When a family sits down together, it helps them handle the stresses of daily life and encourages this sense of others having their back. Eating together tends to promote more sensible eating habits, which in turn helps family members manage their weight more easily and stay healthier overall.
Tight-knit communities, where family members stay close to each other, geographically tends to lead to better health. This may not sit well with all the expats reading this blog but remember while it may take a village as they say. I am a strong believer in the ability to make a new village with chosen friends and family members near and far. I think the important part is to surround yourself with a support system. Social ties affect not only your personal health, but also extend to broader society. People who spend more time with each other forge happy, productive communities.
Did you know that you are as healthy as the five people you spend the most time with? Think about that. Your closest relationships have a huge impact on your health and well being. Whether it’s with a partner, friends, family or coworkers, they set the tone for your overall health and well being. If your spouse, friends or close family tend to eat healthy, stay active and avoid stress, smoking etc, then you are more likely to do the same. Most people find it much easier to stick to healthy behaviors and eating habits when you surround yourself with people on the same path.
I have been blessed in my life to have an amazing group of friendships and close family members in several countries. My partner and I enjoy the outdoors as well as social gatherings with like minded friends. I feel strongly that it has helped us navigate a move overseas as well as other expectations in our lives with ease.
Another study from Harvard University concluded that relationships were key to living longer, healthier and happier lives. “The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study, and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.” You can check out his short 12 minute TED talk here
Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s ups and downs, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.
Read that last part again.
Relationships have a bigger influence on your happiness more than IQ, social class or even your genetic predisposition.
So This Valentine’s Day make sure to take stock of your healthy relationships, whether romantic or platonic, as they truly can make your life healthier and happier. Call a friend, give an extra hug or make time in your busy week to have that cup of coffee with a friend. It could just add a spring to your step and make your life healthier.
Would you like to meet the team behind My Swiss Story for a cup of coffee? If your answer is YES – don’t forget to check out our brand new initiative “Coffee with a Purpose” and register for FREE, places limited.
To read posts from January, click here