How Social Connections Help Us

Dr. Andrea Klemes, Chief Medical Officer MDVIP
By Dr. Andrea Klemes , MDVIP
May 11, 2023
How Social Connections Help Us

Living longer and healthier isn’t always about exercise and healthy eating. While these things are important and account for a huge part of our health span - the period of our lives we live without chronic conditions and mobility issues -- there are other factors that play a big role too, including our relationships.

Decades worth of studies show the impact social circles have on our health. In fact, a 1979 study found the risk of death doubled for those with the fewest social ties when compared to people with the most social ties.

We’ve learned a lot since that groundbreaking study was published. For example, good, healthy relationships can:

The Biology of Friendships

Some of this is obvious – if we make healthier choices because our friends do, then we benefit from having friends who make healthier choices. But there’s also something going on from a biological standpoint.

As mentioned, our social circle helps release chemicals like oxytocin that make us feel better and lessen the pain we feel. But scientists think our relationships also help regulate our physiological systems from our immune response to our “fight or flight” response.

These short-term responses which are so effective at protecting us can also contribute to long-term health issues like inflammation. Our relationships may help attenuate these responses once their need has lessened.

In short, people with a strong social circle tend to have better functioning physiological systems. This shows up in measures of blood pressure, inflammation, waist circumference and even body mass index.

Tips to Improve our Social Circles

Of course, we need to cultivate our relationships for them to be beneficial. And some relationships, regardless of well they’re nurtured, are bad for us from a health standpoint. Studies point to the damage bad relationships can do to us, from failed romantic relationships to abusive relationships we have in childhood and adulthood.

But isolation — especially as we age — isn’t good for us either. That’s why our relationships need to be replenished and expanded even as we get older. What can you do when your social circles began to wane?

  • Volunteer – you’ll meet new people while you’re doing something that studies show help us live healthier longer.
  • Join a group focused on your favorite hobby. Doing things that you like with people who share your interest can lead to better friendships.
  • Take a class in a subject that’s new or even a master class something you’re good at. Again, you’ll meet people who share your interest, and you’ll be learning together, which helps you mentally.
  • Start exercising with a group. Yoga or aerobic classes are great ways to meet people. So are cycling and walking groups. Plus, you’ll get extra longevity benefits from exercise.

You already know how good it feels to break bread with a friend, hug them or talk with them over the phone. Now you know all the good things being friends with them does for your health. So, keep nurturing those positive relationships. They really are one of the keys to a healthy life span.

About the Author
Dr. Andrea Klemes, Chief Medical Officer MDVIP
Dr. Andrea Klemes, MDVIP

Dr. Andrea Klemes is the Chief Medical Officer of MDVIP. She also serves as the executive and organizational leader of MDVIP’s Medical Advisory Board that supports quality and innovation in the delivery of the healthcare model drawing expertise from the affiliated physicians. Dr. Klemes oversees MDVIP’s impressive outcomes data and research including hospital utilization and readmission statistics, quality of disease management in the MDVIP network and the ability to identify high-risk patients and intervene early. She is instrumental in the adoption of the Electronic Health Record use in MDVIP-affiliated practices and the creation of the data warehouse. Dr. Klemes is board certified in internal medicine and endocrinology and a fellow of the American College of Endocrinology. Dr. Klemes received her medical degree from the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed an internal medicine residency at Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan, New York and an Endocrine and Metabolism Fellowship at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Prior to joining MDVIP, Dr. Klemes worked at Procter & Gamble in the areas of personal healthcare, women’s health and digestive wellness and served as North American Medical Director for bone health. She spent 10 years in private practice specializing in endocrinology and metabolism in Tallahassee, Florida. In addition, Dr. Klemes held leadership roles with the American Medical Association, Florida Medical Association and as Medical Director of the Diabetes Center in Tallahassee and Panama City, Florida, as well as Chief of the Department of Medicine at Tallahassee Community Hospital. She has been a consultant and frequent lecturer and has completed broad clinical research in diabetes and osteoporosis and published extensively.

View All Posts By Dr. Andrea Klemes
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