Why a Strong Circle of Family and Friends Can Make You Healthier

By , Category : General Health

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Social support has a positive impact on the maintenance of health and on coping with illness.People are always talking about how to improve their health. Health advice runs the gamut from exhortations to eat the right foods, participate in the right exercise, or get the right amount of sleep. But there’s another element to living a healthier life that’s important to consider: the value of social support—especially for older adults.

Do you know someone who seems vital, content, and socially active? You know the kind of person I’m talking about. They’re the ones who look 15 years younger than they are, who smile an awful lot, and who you feel drawn to because they exude warmth and confidence.

I know a person like this who lives next door to my parents. Her name is Vivienne and she is 91 years old. She lives in her own house, oversees the administration of an apartment building, and travels back and forth to Florida every winter to play a little golf in the sunshine. What’s Vivienne’s secret? It’s not so much her diet, or her exercise regime, or even her genes. I really think Vivienne’s social skills and support network have sustained her throughout the 30 years since she officially became a senior citizen.

PLUS: Your best friend for good health is…

Vivienne is a member of the quilt guild. Now, quilting is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for Vivienne, it gives her a community of friends she can rely on each and every week when she needs to vent, express anxieties, ask for help, or swap stories about health issues. I think having a community of friends, bonded over a common activity, gives Vivienne some of the best preventative medicine she could ever hope for. And, in fact, a recent clinical trial supports this idea too.

When U.S. researchers recently examined older adults and their social support network, they found that those with strong ties to their community, family, and friends had a better sense of order in their lives, more self-control, a better sense of responsibility, and an overall better sense of conscientiousness—which are exactly the traits that Vivienne embodies. She is conscientious, thoughtful, and seems to really care about the people around her.

Social support could almost be thought of as a life-saver. It certainly seems to have carried Vivienne to a ripe old age. Why not build your social network, especially if you’ve become a little isolated lately? Join a group, participate in an activity, or offer to volunteer somewhere meaningful to you.

And while every social connection has its ups and downs, make sure you find a place to belong where you don’t feel threatened, anxious, or disconnected from others. After all, your health depends on more than just prescriptions or remedies—and finding a social support group will make you happier and healthier.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Hill, P.L., et al, “Perceived Social Support Predicts Increased Conscientiousness During Older Adulthood,” J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. April 10, 2013, published online ahead of print.

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Dr. Richard Foxx, MD

About the Author, Browse Richard's Articles

Richard M. Foxx, MD has decades of medical experience with a comprehensive background in endocrinology, aesthetic and laser medicine, gynecology, and sports medicine. He has extensive experience with professional athletes, including several Olympic competitors. Dr. Foxx practices aesthetic and laser medicine, integrative medicine, and anti-aging medicine. He is the founder and Medical Director of the Medical and Skin Spa located in Indian Wells, California, at the Hyatt Regency Resort. Dr. Foxx is certified by the National Board of Medical Examiners... Read Full Bio »