What is a Healthy Social Support Network?

Basically, that means consistent interaction with other humans. Our relationships with family, friends, and peers play a very large role in how healthy and well adjusted mentally we are. There is overwhelming evidence that as our social networks break down, there is a corresponding breakdown in mental and physical health.

In order to remain at an optimal level of mental and physical health, we must have healthy and happy interactions with others.

A very interesting study was conducted by the behavioral and social research program at the National Institute of Aging:

  • They discovered that the average number of years a 30-year-old adult in the United States could expect to live was increased considerably by his or her interaction with others.
  • Women could expect to increase their life span by 3.6 years and men could increase theirs by 5.4 years simply by increasing their social networks.

The study was conducted between 1970 and the year 2000. They also surveyed these individuals to ascertain the number of happy years they lived. The number of happy years that women gained was 3.6, and the number of happy years that men gained was 6.8.

What the researchers discovered was based on the subjects’ expectations as well as the influence of other people in their lives and their outlooks. They also noted that as social networks dwindled and loneliness increased, health problems also increased, such as higher blood pressure, elevated stress levels, less restorative sleep, and other associated difficulties.

Various studies such as these have concluded that those who have less education or use their mental faculties less are more prone to dementia and depression. A Harvard Medical School study by Dr. Michael Craig Miller in 1992 in association with the National Institute on Aging showed that people with small or nonexistent social circles had a greater risk of developing memory loss. Just the opposite was observed with people who continued to widen their social circles. According to the article by Dr. Miller:

“when people are more integrated into a social network and feel supported in their relationships, they may experience less stress—and avoid triggering stress hormones that may interfere with brain function. A rich social life may also be more emotionally and intellectually stimulating, exercising the brain and fostering better neuronal connections and even nerve cell growth.”

In order for mental and physical health to flourish, we must find ways of eliminating our perception of being cut off or separate from others.

Next we find the concept of “let go.” There are so many things in life that we can learn to let go: anger, fear, pain, and resentment. One important form of letting go is forgiveness. This brings us full circle back to love and is especially important for older adults.

So many older adults suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, or stroke. Additionally, concerns about dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and incapacitation bring worry and anxiety that a strong social support network can help alleviate. Being surrounded by loving friends can be an amazing way to improve your health. Folks with the highest levels of social integration—that is, interaction with family friends and other people—were found in studies to be more likely to retain cognitive functioning. (These were the conclusions drawn from a Harvard School of Public Health study that gathered information on more than 16,000 subjects between 1998 and 2004).

Success Tip: Join a club or online community of like-minded people who encourage you to stay on the healthy path and take action on all the tips you discover through this blog.