This time of year, many are thinking about getting healthy by eating better and increasing physical activity. Another key element to overall good health is sustained relationships. These relationships can improve health by helping us fight illness, speeding recovery time and prolonging life.
Humans have an internal need to be socially connected. When those needs are met through friendships and loving relationships, we enjoy better health and happiness. People with quality social connections — such as friendships, family, co-workers or religious networks — are less likely to die prematurely and more likely to have better immune systems, healthier eating habits and better coping mechanisms.
When individuals are in a relationship of some kind, they have a sense of responsibility to that person(s) and tend to make choices that protect the health of those they care about. Research has found that marital relationships strongly impact many health outcomes including cardiovascular disease, chronic conditions, mobility and depression. These relationships can also influence healthy behaviors such as healthy eating, physical activity and disease management. Friends provide support, advice and reassurance that improve an individual’s ability to decrease stress.
Friendship studies have also found that a lack of social ties is as big of a risk factor for heart attack and coronary disease as smoking. Although relationships of any kind can be stressful at times, studies show that social supports more often reduce stress, heart rate, blood pressure and benefits overall health. People who are isolated are twice as likely to die early.
Here are some basic tips for healthy relationships:
• Keep expectations realistic: No one is perfect, acceptance and appreciation for them is key
• Talk with each other: Good communication is necessary
• Be flexible: Healthy relationships allow for change and growth
• Take care of yourself, too: Good relationships have room for both people’s needs
• Be dependable: Follow through, healthy relationships require trust
• Fight fair: Relationships have conflict, it is OK to disagree. Use “I statements” to share your feelings
• Be affirming: Express warmth and affection and decrease the negative interactions
• Be yourself: Be authentic
For some, loneliness, depression and other challenges can become overwhelming, and simply engaging with others may not be enough to improve the situation. Finding a professional therapist, support group or other program may help. Central Plains Area Agency on Aging has one-on-one therapy, other programs, services and referrals to help in a variety of situations. Maintaining social connection is just as important as eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly. Central Plains Area Agency on Aging is here to help; call 855-200-2372 or visit www.cpaaa.org for more information.
Monica Cissell is director of information and community services for CPAAA.