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How to Impact Your Health with Social Relationships

Updated: Oct 30

“Social relationships, or the relative lack thereof, constitute a major risk factor for health—rivaling the effect of well established health risk factors such as cigarette smoking, blood pressure, blood lipids, obesity and physical activity.” [1]

This conclusion came from a review of five studies in 1988.

That’s 34 year old research that is JUST starting to influence conventional medicine! And that’s finally due in large part to the effects of isolation people have experienced over the last couple years of COVID19.

Yet during the three decades in between, researchers had continued to discover more details about how loneliness affects health outcomes.

In 2010, another review included 148 studies – and confirmed the 1988 results. “Findings [again] indicate that the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.”

”Furthermore, the overall effect of social relationships on mortality reported in this meta-analysis might be an underestimate, because many of the studies used simple single-item measures of social isolation rather than a complex measurement.” [PMC2910600]

This new information means that HOW we define loneliness in scientific research should be more closely considered. As we all know, relationships are not a one-size-fits-all.

Five years later in 2015, researchers dove a bit more into this conundrum.

Across studies in which several possible conflicting elements were accounted for, three areas increased the likelihood of mortality. Social isolation increases the likelihood of mortality by 29%, loneliness by 26%, and living alone by 32%. [PMID: 25910392]

Let’s think about this for a moment…

Both the PERCEIVED feeling of being alone as well as PHYSICALLY being alone (even if you don't feel alone) increase the risk of mortality. Considering the high impact on health outcomes, both deserve to be addressed.

In January 2022, the World Economic Forum took a look at an element of complexity by researching how loneliness affects people in crowded, urban environments.

“Perceived social inclusivity – the feeling of being with people who share our values and make us feel welcome – was associated with a 21% decrease in loneliness. This suggests that it’s the quality of our social relationships that matter – rather than the amount of social contact we have.” [2]

This is exciting news when helping people achieve better health outcomes.

As health professionals, we need to support patients by including valuable social relationships into their health plans.

Now that you are hopefully on board, the question is… HOW?

Many people know about setting up care calendars in order to garner support during acute health issues like meal deliveries after child birth and transportation to a doctor’s office during recovery from an operation…

What about patients navigating chronic gut health issues?

How do you build supportive connections when your concerns are not as obvious and immediate? Or perhaps when they feel embarrassing?

How do you keep friendships strong when you have low energy? Or feel like social activities revolve around food that could increase your symptoms?

Here at modrn med, we don’t want you to be one of the people on their deathbed wishing they had stayed in closer contact with their friends. [3]

We want you to have a long, healthy, fulfilling life.

And just like any adventure, companions can make the experiences more meaningful.

So here are some suggestions for enlisting your friends and loved one to participate in your health journey:

1. FOOD. Yes, I know this may seem like the opposite place to start. However, you can bring on co-workers, friends, and family as co-chefs. Swap recipes. Cook together. Experiment with a green smoothie, holiday brownies, or our food strategy guide. Food prepared and eaten with friends is good for the body and soul.

2. ACCOUNTABILITY BUDDY. Whatever your health plan is, some elements are going to be harder for you than others. So what kind of accountability would be helpful for you? Cheerleading and encouragement? Routine check-ins? Problem solving? Once you’ve fingered that out, who in your life can you ask to support you in that way? And can you support them in return? These social relationships can go a long way to not only stick to your health plan but also to feel connected along the way.

3. PLAY & PURPOSE! In functional medicine, we talk a lot about the importance of living your sense of purpose and meaning in life – while having fun doing it! What goals, dreams, and issues motivate you the most? What mark do you want to make on the world? Once you glimpse what that can be, seek out others who are doing just that. These types of relationships are so full of potential for the well being of everyone involved.

4. REFER A FRIEND. If you enjoy your experience with modrn med, make sure to refer any friends and family who could use our services as well. Though you will have individualized health plans, the ups and downs of any health journey are similar. When you share the journey together, you won’t feel so alone. When they make their appointment, make sure they mention your name because you will receive $50 off your next appointment with your modrn practitioner.

We are all on a health journey in this lifetime. Our physical, emotional, and mental health encompass much of who we are. Including others in that process is a way to welcome them into our lives. And, as the research shows, we all benefit from that.

Got some questions about joining our community? Click the link below to get started!

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