This article is the fifth in a series of nine which focus on areas that I explore with my health and wellness coaching clients.  Our health and well-being are so much more than just what we eat and how active we are, even though that is certainly part of it.   What changes would you like to see in your life?  Whether its nutrition, being physically active, reducing stress, being more in-tune with your mind body connection, or being more aware of your environment and its impact on health and wellness, there is always an opportunity to explore potential areas for change.   This month’s focus is on relationships and community.  Strong relationships and a supportive community play a role in health with research to prove it.  I will share some of what I have learned from the Vanderbilt Health Coach training program that summarizes this topic well.  During February, the “month of love,” what a great topic to explore not only for our heart-health and overall well-being, but for the love we may choose to pour into our relationships and community.

 

 

What is it about those positive feelings we may get after spending an afternoon with one of our besties? Or the after-effects of an enjoyable activity with a significant other? Or the sense of peace and joy after enjoying a special family meal or celebration?   How about those feelings of connection that linger long after we have spent time volunteering with a group of like-minded folks to contribute to society in a meaningful way?   Relationships and community are important and there is science to back that up.

 

 

There have been studies published over the years that consistently demonstrate the value and importance of solid relationships and a supportive community in our health.  There is evidence that people with lower levels of social connection are three to five times more likely to die early from multiple causes of death, including heart attacks, stroke, some cancers, infectious diseases, auto-immune diseases, substance abuse and suicide.  A lack of social support is also connected with developing higher levels of blood pressure and to developing heart disease.  It has also been demonstrated that lack of social support is related to early death from all causes.   The science is clear that relationships and social support are one way to optimize health and prevent disease.   Is this an area where you might make some positive changes? It’s something to think about!

 

 

Social Isolation and Loneliness.   What is it about a lack of social support that may contribute to unfavorable health outcomes?  Part of it is loneliness.  What research tells us is that the lack of social support typically results in loneliness, which may contribute to disease through several pathways.  First, the influence of relationships on health behaviors.  Second, their influence on how individuals experience and cope with stress; and third, their influence on how the body functions on a daily basis in terms of growth, regeneration and maintenance.   Also, workplace stress can be impacted by social support.  Social support has been found to reduce perceived stress, and moderate the important relationships between work or life demands, and how much autonomy and control individuals believe they have. Research suggests that the presence of even one close friend or romantic partner may be enough to buffer the health risks of behavior patterns such as the Type A profile and of loneliness.

 

Strong Relationships and Well-being.   Also important, and maybe even more so than the negative impact of social isolation in health is the connection between strong relationships and well-being.  It has been demonstrated clearly through published studies that supportive relationships are strongly linked with positive emotions, and lead to greater sense of life purpose and meaning, and life satisfaction.  Basic needs must also be met to increase life satisfaction; after meeting basic needs, however, positive emotions become highly important for well-being, and these arise in large part from interpersonal connections.  In fact, recently emerging literature has allowed the field of “relationship neuroscience” to demonstrate the positive neural impact of being around other living beings.  Indeed, our brains rely on input from complex and subtle interpersonal cues to function well, learn and grow. Good communication is the key to building and maintaining strong relationships, which in turn has an effect on health, happiness and sense of well-being.

 

 

Are you convinced yet about the value of relationships and community support as it relates to positive health outcomes?   Would you like to learn more about this topic?  Below are resources that were shared as part of Vanderbilt’s Health and Wellness Coach training program.  Take a look and explore this important dimension of health and wellness and resources to help you in your journey to better relationships.

 

 

Resources for further exploration:

 

 

 

Sources and Citations:

A Time to Bloom Health and Wellness Coaching, LLC https://atimetobloomcoaching.com/

Vanderbilt Health Coaching Program, Resources for Health, and Wellness Coaches. https://www.vumc.org/health-coaching/health-coaching-program