Most of us accept that the secret to living to a very old age is either down to genetics or lifestyle. In reality, it's a bit of both, with genetics actually only contributing 20-30 percent of the likelihood of living to 100.
Ultimately, lifestyle is the bit that we can control, so most longevity research (research into lifespan) has focused upon this. Most of us know that eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, not smoking, drinking in moderation, and reducing stress in our lives is the way to go.
But one additional vital ingredient is missing from this menu. That ingredient is friends!
It turns out that the positive effect of regular social contact to a persons' health is about as strong as the effect of blood pressure, smoking, alcohol habits, obesity, and eating a healthy diet.
Take, for instance, the following two pieces of research:
In 2010, researchers at Brigham Young University published a summary analysis of 148 different studies that involved 308,849 people. They were of an average age of 63.9 years and hailed from four different continents, and the study dealt with the impact of social relationships on mortality risk.
The conclusion was startling: People who enjoyed strong social ties had a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival over a measured period of 7.5 years compared with people with weak or no social ties.
And a 2010 Australian study that looked at 188 people over the age of 100 found that having a close network of family and friends was a highly significant factor in their lifespan.
Think of it in this way. Take the health of our planetary ecosystem. It needs biodiversity -- that is, a wide variety of different kinds of species. When there's too little biodiversity, the "immune system" of the planet is compromised and the health of the ecosystem suffers. Similarly, having too little social contact compromises our health, whereas a diverse array of social connections improves our health.
We are wired for social contact. Our health thrives when we connect with each other and suffers when we are lonely. It seems that at the heart of all things, being connected sustains life.
So one of the secrets to longer lifespan may be to get connected. It might mean having more regular contact with family or friends. For some, it might mean joining a club, taking up line dancing, or even starting a language class. It can mean making more of an effort to chat with neighbors or inviting friends around for dinner. It might even mean going out of your way to help others in need on a regular basis.
There are many ways in our lives that we can improve how much we connect with others. When we do, we do ourselves a favor, but we do our family, friends, or anyone else we connect with, a favor too.
For more by David R. Hamilton, Ph.D., click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.