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Health Benefits of Social Interaction

According to the World Health Organization, the biggest threats to our health, globally, are now chronic degenerative conditions, not infectious diseases. What a transition! As opposed to various epidemics of diseases that were so common in our history, what is now threatening health, across the planet,  is chronic degenerative inflammatory conditions – diseases that we most fear. These include things like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and autoimmune conditions as well.

So it makes sense that we must do everything we possibly can, from a lifestyle choice perspective, to keep ourselves healthy and lower our risk for these chronic degenerative conditions.

No doubt lifestyle issues like diet and exercise have received a lot of press, but what we don’t hear about so often is the importance of social interaction.

In a new report (recently published by the Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), researchers, drawing on data from four large national studies of the United States population, evaluated the role of social integration versus social isolation in terms of impact on things like C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), blood pressure, waist circumference, and body mass index.

The researchers found that those individuals who experienced a higher degree of social interaction, meaning interaction with other people, had a dramatically lower risk of detrimental changes in the various measurements. Lack of social connections was associated with a significantly increased risk for inflammation, becoming overweight, and even developing high blood pressure.

In fact, this study revealed that the risk of high blood pressure brought on by social isolation was actually higher than the risk of developing high blood pressure by virtue of being a diabetic!

Co-author of the study Yang Claire Yang,  a professor at the University of North Carolina, commented on the study by stating:

Our analysis makes it clear that doctors, clinicians, and other health workers should redouble their efforts to help the public understand how important strong social bonds are throughout the course of all of our lives.

So the message is clear. We’ve got to recognize that there is yet another important lifestyle choice that can pave the way for health and disease resistance in our future, and that is interacting with other people. I would suspect that this means actual face-to-face interaction as opposed to spending time each day on your computer doing social media. While Facebook is entertaining, I think what the authors have demonstrated is the importance of, for example, joining a book club, a hobby club, biking with a group of friends, traveling with others, sharing meals with friends, and various other forms of actual person-to-person interaction.

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