There are eight pillars of health. One that does not get as much airtime as movement, sleep and diet is relationships. Research from Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, reveals that loneliness and social isolation may increase the risk of premature death by up to 50 percent.
The headline figure is a relative one and hence overstates the problem. A 50% increase can be from 1% to 1.5% which in reality is a 0.5% increase. However, this research picks up on much previous work and makes a critical point.
Human beings are social by nature. We live in families and communities because it is in our nature. We seek the company of others as it brings us joy and contentment. Likewise, bad relationships are a major problem and can lead to a myriad of problems.
This work has sought to separate the concepts of loneliness from social isolation and finds (perhaps not surprisingly) that you can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely. There is nothing wrong with spending time alone. In fact, we all need this but that is different to feeling lonely.
Social isolation is a problem in bigger cities where many of us do not even know our neighbours. This is compounded when people move away from family for work or study reasons. Political correctness makes it worse by seeking to view every invitation for a meal as some form of harassment.
Medical research has also confirmed what we know deep down – that touch is good for us. This starts at the moment of birth. Human touch such as a hug releases oxytocin and other happy hormones. It lowers blood pressure and production of stress hormones.
Children who do not receive adequate touch are more likely to have mental health issues. Touch is also soothing both to a child and adult. The touch of a hand to someone in distress can be very powerful.
Research shows, as those of us who have children know, that even touching a soft toy has positive effects. The notion of “kissing it better”, again well known to parents has a real as well as perceived benefit.
How tragic then it is today that the PC thought police seek to turn every gesture of touch into some sort of assault. Perhaps these people reflect what happens when touch is not a normal part of growing up.
And for the record, in case any of the PC thought police are reading this, there is a massive difference between normal human touch and any form of assault. They are not the same thing and equalising them not only denies the benefit of touch to many, but it diminishes the crime of assault.
Relationship building is a two-way street. It may behove those of us with strong ties, to be on the lookout for those who are isolated and see how we can bring them into existing groups. For those who find themselves alone, waiting for the phone to ring is not the best option. We need to be a bit proactive. Go to places where you might meet people with similar interests. This could be sport, music or any other activity.
In this digital world, if friends or family are far away, get on the net and connect.
Relationships are a like a garden. They need tending and at times weeding. This is an active not passive process and is good for your health. Get involved!
Dr Joe Kosterich is a Medical Doctor, author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, who wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life.
Joe writes for numerous medical and mainstream publications and is also a regular on radio and television. He is often called to give opinions in medico legal cases and is an advisor to Reed Medical Conferences.
Joe is Medical Advisor to Medicinal Cannabis Company Little Green Pharma and sits on the board of Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association.