Social media is all around us, from TikTok to Snapchat and everything beyond and in between. It seems many of us are living to connect through these mediums, but are we really connecting in meaningful ways? Are we letting ourselves be vulnerable and surrounding ourselves with those who support us and make us better? Gathering “friends” and “likes” on social media does not create the connection and community that is essential for a long and healthy life.
We talk about longevity a lot; we explore the myriad ways to help us improve, not only our lifespan, but our health span through diet, exercise and innovative interventions. We have written many articles, listened to countless experts on podcasts and at seminars, and have read through tons of data on the science of longevity. One pillar that feels less scientific (although there is plenty of data to support it), is the positive effect of social connection on living longer.
You may have heard of the Blue Zones, the 5 areas of the world that have the most centenarians. People in these areas reach age 100 at 10 times greater rates than in the United States. In studying these areas, researchers have found 9 evidence-based common denominators in those living to be 100, including belonging and having the right “tribe”.
Psychologist, Dr. Marisa G. Franco says the number one thing that affects mortality – more than diet and exercise – is social connection . In her book, The Spark Factor, Dr. Molly Maloof says social disconnection is a greater driver of disease than smoking, drinking, sedentary behavior or obesity! What is the science behind this fundamental need for social connection? We will explore a few key factors.
Dr. Maloof describes an interesting link between how mitochondria acts and why social connection is an integral part of our well-being. Mitochondria, which produces the energy in our body, was evolved from ancient bacteria that were engulfed in a host organism and developed a symbiotic relationship. The bacteria harvested energy from the environment to give the host the ability to survive. It was the first relationship that helped life evolve. Her theory is that we evolved to be social because that’s what our mitochondria needs.
Looking a little later in our evolution, we needed our tribe to survive. Loneliness meant you did not have others to protect and help you. Your body would always be in the “fight or flight” mode of the sympathetic nervous system which leads to stress, lack of sleep, inflammation, and so on – factors we associate with a decrease in health and longevity.
One other reason we need social connection is oxytocin, a hormone produced in the brain, and often referred to as the love hormone. Oxytocin is responsible for such positive things as reducing blood pressure and stress , it promotes healing and acts as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. Oxytocin also improves fat and glucose metabolism which improves our metabolic health and lowers the risk of chronic disease. How do we get more of this magic love hormone? Through touch, orgasm, helping others, expressing gratitude, and yes, positive social connections…in person, not online.
Looking for ways to meet new people? Lewis Howes says to “Go where people go to grow.” Find a class, a new hobby or a business meet up where you can connect with people who are looking to improve themselves. Try a Tai Chi class, an art lecture or a hiking group. There are endless possibilities for meeting new people, then take the next step to get to really know them.
Quality connections and deep relationships do not necessarily happen organically. We have to make an effort to be a good friend. This goes beyond chatting with acquaintances such as those we work with or friends of friends. Take a few extra minutes to get to know people just a little better. Ask questions and listen to what others have to say. The more genuinely interested you are in other people, the better connections you will make. Be real and let people see you for you, not for who you pretend to be to impress others. Be open and vulnerable and you will foster lasting relationships. Foster lasting relationships and you will be healthier and happier, and according to the data, you will live longer too. Connect to live!