Likely you are thinking my advice will be to adhere to a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and not smoke. Well you are right. These things certainly are important. But if you want to not only live longer and healthier, but a whole lot happier, you need to do something else—STAY CONNECTED!
Staying connected with family, friends, and your community has been shown through research to be a more potent predictor of longevity than your age or medical conditions. Social isolation is toxic. Persons who are socially isolated are at higher risk for depression, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. We are indeed social animals. Social isolation leads to loneliness which is source of emotional distress, suffering, and poor quality of life in older persons. A study reported in The Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012 demonstrated that lonely persons were much more likely to experience a decline in physical function and an increased risk of death. Data from another study that followed 308,849 individuals for an average of 7.5 years showed that individuals with adequate social relationships have a 50% greater likelihood of survival compared to those with poor or insufficient social relationships.
Another fascinating study from The British Medical Journal demonstrated that happiness is a social phenomenon. In other words, happiness spreads across social networks. We are more likely to be happy if our social contacts are happy. Interestingly, our own happiness is likely to be increased if friends of our friends are happy, even if we don’t personally know them. So another important message is to hang around with happy people. Happiness is contagious!
I have heard some people say, “I prefer to be alone.” My advice is to get over it. Volunteering for something you are interested in can help you meet other people with similar interests. If you are shy, it can be overcome but it requires some work. This wikiHow website has some great tips to help: http://www.wikihow.com/Overcome-Shyness
Kevin W. O’Neil MD, FACP, CMD
Chief Medical Officer