You do everything right for your health, from tracking food and eating nutrient-dense options to working out regularly, getting enough sleep and hydrating like a champ. (Well, maybe “mostly” on all of that, anyway.) But are you potentially missing a big health booster if you spend more time scrolling social media than hanging out?
Many people focus on taking care of themselves with all the sure-fire tactics but forget social connection is just as critical as food, movement and sleep, according to Emma Seppala, PhD, Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and author of “The Happiness Track.”
“Research has shown that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure,” she says. “On the other hand, strong social connections can have huge benefits, and may even lengthen your life.”
Lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.
Here are numerous reasons why you need to use that smartphone to set up coffee dates and gym buddy time, rather than just scrolling through Instagram posts:
In a study done at Carnegie Mellon University, college freshmen were studied for their antibody response to the flu shot, based on their self-reported levels of loneliness and social network activity. Those who felt lonelier and had fewer real-life social connections had a worse antibody response to the vaccine.
Also, researchers added, loneliness was associated with poor sleep quality, which has often been linked to decreased immune system response.
When you’re out with friends, especially if you’re a hugger, you tend to be better at regulating your level of cortisol — the hormone most responsible for your stress response.
Even better, research has found simple human touch (or even petting an animal) can reduce pain as well as improve mental and emotional health, making it a plus for body and mind.
What’s good for your figurative heart is also beneficial for your literal one — forging deeper social connections can lower blood pressure, and that reduces your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Improved blood pressure is partly due to lower cortisol levels, but loneliness also creates other stresses on the body, including increased inflammation, which can also be tough on the ticker. One study noted that poor social relationships were associated with a 29% increase in risk of coronary heart disease and a 32% increase in risk of stroke.
Despite all of these benefits, loneliness and isolation are on the rise in the United States, says Seppala, adding that it’s been estimated that up to a quarter of all Americans feel they have no one with whom they can share a personal problem. Social media can exacerbate this, because you can have 10,000 followers and still not feel like you have a single close friend.
Set up gym buddy time, rather than just scrolling through Instagram posts.
So, for the sake of your mental and physical health, start the process of going to the gym and asking others to join you. Find some good friends to workout with and you will begin to feel more alive than ever before.
adapted from Elizabeth Millard, myfitnesspal.com