Surprise! One of the most impactful ways you can prevent aging is completely free. All it takes is consistent engagement with the people around you.
DEC 22, 2021
In the last decade, research into longevity has shown that our communities and social circles play a more significant role in determining our lifespan than once thought. When it comes to healthy aging, social interactions may be what brings us over the tipping point into a long and healthy life.
01 Factors That Impact Longevity
There’s no doubt that lifestyle choices and genetics play major roles in both our healthspan and our lifespan. Our diet, level of activity, habits, and our genetics all prevent disease and affect longevity.
While all of these factors are vital to a long life, some are out of our control. Luckily, how we interact with those around us is something that we have significant control over and data suggests that it impacts our longevity much more than we once thought. We might not have the capacity to change our genetics, but we can change how we treat others. In the end, our social relationships may impact longevity in more ways than we realize.
Research into Relationships and Lifespan
According to the American Psychological Association, individuals who volunteer for altruistic purposes and exhibit a desire for social connectedness have higher rates of longevity and life satisfaction. Current research also reflects this idea, indicating that individuals who have supportive and healthy relationships with others experience longer lifespans than those who don’t. The reason for the phenomenon may be that social ties help to buffer stressful life events and improve mental and physiological resilience.
At the Community Level
- Research published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that kindness, also known as “prosocial behavior,” may show up in the composition of blood. More specifically, acts of kindness influence leukocyte gene expression, which subsequently impact disease resistance and development.
- In a sample of 159 participants, those who demonstrated prosocial behavior directed towards specific people or entities were more likely than others to experience improvements in leukocyte gene expression.
- Thus, being kind to others can make the body more resistant to diseases, lengthening both lifespan and healthspan.
- Community engagement not only boosts an individual’s lifespan but can boost the longevity of people in the community as a whole.
- A study published in Social Science and Medicine found that the population density of an area doesn’t necessarily equal social engagement. Whether an individual lives in a rural town or a big city, it’s the social interaction of the community as a whole that matters.
- Public spaces with areas for the community to congregate promotes social interaction, thus lengthening the average lifespan of individuals in the community.
A Harvard study spanning 80 years may have found the secret to longer life — and it’s not diet or exercise. The secret may be in our personal relationships. The study included about 1,300 people in determining how early-life experiences affected an individual's lifespan and healthspan over their entire life. Happy and satisfying relationships were powerful influences on physical health. The study found that close personal relationships had a more substantial impact – well over wealth and status – on delaying mental and physical decline.
Positive relationships also extend to furry friends. Even a pet dog or cat can mitigate loneliness and improve well-being. Need proof? The Human-Animal Bond Institute, also known as HABRI, studies the effects of animals on human mental and physical health. HABRI’s research indicates that the companionship of pet-ownership adds years to a person’s life.
The Science and Biology Behind Relationships and Longevity
Anyone who has ever been in love or held a baby understands the “feel good” emotions that flood the body during those periods. These happy relationships encourage the release of various hormones that trigger biological processes. Just like a lengthy stressful relationship is harmful to the body, a healthy and supportive relationship can prevent or reduce the chances of chronic illnesses.
Loneliness and Its Negative Impact
Evidence shows that loneliness and isolation is a risk factor for chronic diseases. On the other hand, strong social support and engagement correlate with health and resilience. As an example, playing and cuddling with a pet releases the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is responsible for decreasing stress hormones, promoting bonding, and reducing pain.
This same release of hormones occurs during loving relationships, ultimately improving health. What’s more, individuals who engage in supportive relationships are much more likely to weather life’s struggles in a healthy manner. Because they’re less likely to make risky decisions and much less prone to stress, individuals with strong social support systems typically live longer lives.
How You can Engage in Community and Positive Relationships
Working through challenges with friends and family, with or without professional help, can bring you closer and deepen bonds. Attending social gatherings and regularly reaching out to friends builds both your support system and theirs.
As noted previously, performing acts of kindness for strangers can strengthen your mental and physical health. Engagement with the community is a way to foster a sense of belonging and commitment.
You can incorporate community and social engagement into your life by:
- Contacting your local hospitals, universities, religious centers, or non-profits directly for volunteer opportunities.
- Participating in neighborhood boards.
- Volunteering for community clean-ups.
If you’re looking for volunteer opportunities you can contact:
These days, much attention goes to self-care. But the science points to caring for others as a key factor in caring for yourself. In summary, if you’re looking to live a long and healthy life, make investing in social connections part of your self-care routine.
- Creating time to develop and nurture relationships is critical to living a long, healthy, and satisfying life.
- Community engagement enhances disease prevention and resistance.
- Healthy personal relationships can prevent or delay physical and cognitive decline.
- Social interactions directly influence gene expression and hormones.
-  https://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.G4490.abstract
-  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316
-  https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/11/volunteering
-  https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/relationships-boost-survival/
-  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306453016310587
-  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200310124706.htm
-  https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/
-  https://www.science.org/doi/full/10.1126/science.1261022
-  https://habri.org/blog/the-relationship-between-pet-ownership-and-longevity/
-  https://www.apa.org/monitor/2018/03/life-saving-relationships
-  https://acl.gov/programs/volunteer-opportunities-and-civic-engagement
-  https://youth.gov/youth-topics/civic-engagement-and-volunteering
-  https://www.volunteermatch.org/search/org190760.jsp