Back in April, as we were entering into the pandemic and the early throes of isolation and social distancing, I wrote (“Loneliness can harm your health,” The Daily News, April 15) on the negative health effects of loneliness.
Such effects are many and contribute pervasively to premature mortality and morbidity up to 26 percent. This may end up being one of the long-haul harms of COVID-19.
On the other hand, social connection, long-term relationships, volunteering, community mindedness have all been found to improve longevity. These measures documented to improve our health above and beyond the usual ones: healthy diet, an exercise program and maintaining an optimal weight.
In a recently published book, “Growing Young,” science writer Marta Zaraska reports the eye-popping significance to improving our longevity that friendship, optimism and relationships bring.
Raised by her Polish father, who strongly modeled and encouraged close attention to preventive hygiene, exercise, organic diets, she spent much of her life following the latest recommendations for good health. These included yoga, tai chi, organic foods, increasing vegetable and fruit intake, various diets, intermittent fasting, meditation and more.
Her book puts into perspective that social determinants of health weigh heavier on the scale of positive health and improved longevity than many of these well-known and evidence-based lifestyle practices.
Here are a few examples from “Growing Young” with side-by-side comparisons of practices that that promote longevity and lower early mortality:
Surprised? I was. Relationships and community involvement make as big or bigger differences than our usual practices for lifestyle change and improvement of health risks. A stronger focus on relationship-building can more than offset less gym time or the latest diet.
So, don’t ditch your spouse or live-in partner even if the pressures of living together are more intensive during COVID-19. Though maybe not as good a vaccine, such social support has a major impact on your overall health and longevity. And in the meantime, keep up your healthy diet and exercise program.
The challenge is it now takes more effort to maintain and grow our social connections, volunteer or even be with family over the holidays.
Can technology interfaces help? The data isn’t in yet. We all know that Zoom and FaceTime aren’t the same as in-person interactions. Yet, they still may play a role in helping us keep connected, loving each other, and avoiding loneliness and social isolation. Numerous other apps are available to keep us connected.
Perhaps reading and discussing the same books together, joint movie watching or music listening, sharing journal entries and even old-fashioned letter writing may be in vogue again.
Going forward, be creative. Realize your health and the health of those you love is built by connecting positively with each other in whatever ways we now can.