One cannot live in this world without the support of others. (Okinawan saying) “ “
No man is an island…every man is a piece of the continent; a part of the main... (John Donne) “ “
No man is an island A circle of close friends can boost your health as much as giving up smoking or taking regular exercise, while being lonely can be as risky for health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic, according to an analysis of 148 studies from Brigham Young University. Those with few friendships were 50 percent more likely to die over a 7.5 year period. This is more marked than that between those who are or are not obese, and those who do or do not take regular exercise. Being part of a community was an early survival mechanism and it is therefore a deep need within us.
No man is an island The BYU study found that people with good friends are less stressed, take better care of themselves and have less risky lifestyles. The study suggested that doctors take on board how socially connected patients are. Solitary confinement is used as a way of torturing or punishing prisoners. Being isolated is damaging to physical and mental health. Science magazine published an article by Lisa Berkman called ‘With Isolation Comes Ill Health.’ Studies also show that being with a friend or parent reduces stress levels and blood pressure during a potentially stressful situation. Serotonin and endorphins, which make us feel relaxed and happy, are released when we are with people we love.
No man is an island A study from Carnegie Mellon University showed that when a group of subjects were exposed to the common cold virus, they were less likely to catch a cold if they had a good social network from, for example, work, sports teams, and church. This was thought to be because stress can have a negative effect on the immune system. There is evidence that loneliness makes cancer more likely and more deadly (2009, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science).
No man is an island A 2011 study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior showed that relationships have an impact on health and also have a cumulative effect on health over time. Close friends and partners can also help improve our health by encouraging us to eat healthily or rest if we are ill. According to a 2010 study from AARP, 44 million Americans are lonely and are ashamed of their loneliness. The study suggested that those in their 40s and 50s are most affected. Studies also show that numbers of lonely people are increasing. People do not experience loneliness in the Longevity Hot Spots. We can also find ways to connect with others.
Marriage can be either good or bad for health, depending on the state of the relationship (according to a study by Andrew Oswald from Warwick University, UK). Married people, especially men, live up to three years longer than unmarried people. Cohabiting was not found to have the same effect. The study also found that cancer is higher in divorced people, possibly partly because of stress from hiring divorce lawyers. Marriage reduces the risk of heart disease, according to a 2006 study by Zhang and Haywood 2006. However, unhappy marriages are bad for health (Umberson et al. 2006).
Love and Marriage Single, divorced and widowed people are less likely to live long, according to psychologist James J Lynch. Possible reasons for this include marriage providing a sense of security, having someone to talk to, and watching out for each other’s health. An Ohio State University study found that couples who are nasty and sarcastic to each other during fights have weakened immune systems. In the study couples discussed a marital issue which they wanted to change and were also given a small blister on the arm. The blister healed more quickly if the interaction was positive. This was thought to be due to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, enabling healing compounds to be delivered to the site of the wound more efficiently.
Love and Marriage Women prefer to be alone than in an unhappy relationship while men are more likely to stay in an indifferent relationship than be single. There is less onus on a marriage to be perfect in the Hot Spots because marriage occurs within the context of supportive extended family networks. It’s never too late to get married – one Bama man married at the age of 97!
Julianne Holt-Lunstad of the BYU study suggested that focusing on good existing relationships is better than forging connections with strangers. People can feel isolated even when surrounded with people. It’s the quality of the interaction that counts.
Kissing triggers the release of the ‘love messenger’ hormone oxytocin, which is relaxing and pleasurable. Oxytocin is an anti-aging hormone because: – It stimulates feelings of love, trust and friendship between romantic partners and friends. – It improves mood and causes people to smile more. – It causes dilation of blood vessels, which helps lower blood pressure. – It improves wound healing via better circulation. – It triggers production of anti-aging growth hormone. – It reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Enjoy an Anti-Aging Kiss New research shows that oxytocin is essential for social confidence and sexual enjoyment. Women have much lower levels after menopause, which can cause relationship problems. Autism is associated with very low levels. Depression is also linked, and anti- depressant medication lowers levels of oxytocin over time. Ways to increase oxytocin levels: – Hugging, massage, and kissing – Spending time with others – Looking at a painting you like, listening to music you particularly like, singing and reading
Enjoy an Anti-Aging Kiss Chocolate and capsaicin, found in chili peppers, also boost oxytocin levels. Being lonely and isolated reduces levels.
For children Taylor, Repetti and Seeman 1997 found that the emotional support a child gets affects their health for life. The hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal axis, immune, metabolic and autonomic nervous systems are all influenced.
Looking after dependents Caring for children, a spouse, and aging parents can be a stressful burden for middle-aged women, which is not conducive to good health (Spain and Bianchi, 1996). In the Hot Spots, the whole extended family is there to take the pressure off. Yuimaaru means ‘mutual aid and reciprocity’ in Okinawan. Okinawans help out friends and neighbors; e.g., they will bring them food if sick. Serotonin and endorphins are released when we are with someone we love. Oxytocin is released as a ‘love messenger’ which bonds us.
In the Hot Spots you will often find several generations living under one roof, so each family member has a sense of belonging. Everyone is appreciated and eccentric or unreasonable behavior is moderated. Nobody feels isolated. Trivial and important moments in life are shared. A grandmother might witness the birth of her great-granddaughter. Tortillas might be made or supper caught from the ocean together. If someone is ill or upset, someone else is there to hug and comfort them. If someone doesn't have enough to eat, another will bring them whatever they have to spare.
Being part of a group John Capiocco, neuroscientist and author of Loneliness: Human Nature and Our Need for Social Connection, points out that our ancestors depended on family and tribe for protection. Loneliness can result in lower immunity, raised stress hormones and poorer cardiovascular function. Lonely adults tend to drink more alcohol and get less exercise. According to Capiocco, loneliness also disrupts cellular function on a deeper level which is pro-aging.
Bama centenarians have told longevity researchers that ‘doing good deeds’ keeps them healthy. Selfish people die younger than helpful people, according to a University of Michigan study. – In the study, being helpful entailed simple tasks such as helping with housework or transportation as well as being emotionally supportive to spouses. It was thought that giving to others makes us motivated and empowered and reduces loneliness. Being on the receiving end was not found to increase longevity. A 2002 study from Boston University School of Public Health showed that being hostile is an even better predictor of heart disease than drinking and smoking.
Get a pet Having a pet prolongs life and keeps blood pressure down, according to the University of Warwick study. Walking a dog can also be a great way to meet people! Get a pet – a small one if you are short of space.
ACTIVITY: This week, incorporate some of the connection ideas we have covered today.