Are Relationships as Important as Exercise?

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on March 28, 2018

How important are relationships to your health?
 
Extremely important!

Positive connections with others—spouses, partners, parents, friends and acquaintances—have proven health benefits.
 
Relationships are actually as important to our health as exercise and shouldn’t be overlooked as a source of physical and mental support. We are, after all, social animals.
 
I’m sure that’s good news for many of us!
 

How Relationships Help Us

“Like exercise, our relationships have real effects on our physiology, health and development,” said J. Eric Vance, M.D., a psychiatrist with Carilion Clinic’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
 
“It’s been found that people with a network of close relationships have strong protection against the effects of stress and illness,” he said.
 
“Anti-stress hormones like oxytocin are released whenever we have a warm and positive social interaction with anyone we feel safe with. In short, warm and positive relationships are ‘anti-stress.’ ”
 
Our feelings of safety within warm social relationships have also been found to:

  • Control the stress hormone cortisol
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce heart rate
  • Aid digestion
  • Boost the immune system

Babies Respond Too

The importance of healthy relationships begins as soon as we’re born. Infants learn how to socially interact by studying and copying the facial expressions of their mothers. This includes smiling and laughing.
 
On the other hand, early stress or trauma in relationships can have lifelong effects on how a person responds to stress. It can affect whether they develop stress-related illnesses or health problems like depression, anxiety or substance abuse.

As We Age

As we get older, it’s natural that our circle of relationships may shrink. Our spouses and friends may pass away, and we may move from our familiar homes into simpler living arrangements.
 
“However our lives may change as we age, it’s important for all of us to pay attention to maintaining social relationships,” Dr. Vance noted.
 
“Keep seeing your friends and family, and join organizations like churches or clubs if necessary to keep a social circle in your life.”

Men vs. Women

A final note about men and women.

“It’s been observed in the study of relationships that men, for the most part, have fewer close relationships than women throughout life,” Dr. Vance said.
 
As a result, men more often end up isolated with fewer relationships as they get older, which can lead to poor health, depression or substance abuse. Men even have higher suicide rates.
 
“It’s especially important for men to maintain relationships and involvement in organizations as they get older,” said Dr. Vance.
 
“Women more often maintain relationships, and it has been shown that the quality of these relationships is much more important to women than to men,” he added. “For men, it is enough just to have social connections. Quality matters less.”
 
So if you’ve ever doubted the value of time spent with your family or friends, you now have validation.
 
They can all do you a world of good.

Being resilient is important to your health. How resilient are you?