Friday, August 13, 2010

Live Longer with Healthy Relationships

Low and unhealthy social interaction can produce the same amount of stress in our lives as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or being an alcoholic, or not exercising. A new study from Brigham Young University reports that healthy relationship improve our odds of survival by 50 percent.

"The idea that a lack of social relationships is a risk factor for death is still not widely recognized by health organizations and the public," write the editors in a summary of the BYU study and why it was done.

The study was developed by analyzing data from nearly 150 previously published studies that measured things like frequency of human interaction and tracked the resulting health outcomes over a period of years. Because information on relationship quality was unavailable from these studies, the 50 percent increased odds of survival may actually be an UNDERestimate of the benefit of healthy relationships.

While the study isn't just referencing relationships with significant others, but rather all our daily interactions – from husbands and wives to co-workers and friends – some of the same techniques I teach for healthy romantic relationships can be applied to the relationships we have with other people in our lives.

For example, having what I call in my book, Make Up Don't Break Up, a “smart heart-to-heart” can be beneficial to a friendship or a co-worker relationship as well as a marriage. It teaches us to create an environment for honesty and conflict resolution. Being able to put heated emotions aside and let each person share their experiences and feelings is beneficial beyond a romantic relationship and can work for professional and personal relationships alike.

Another technique I teach is break up to make up and this can be helpful for many types of relationships that have come to an impasse. Typically, I recommend it for those in committed relationships who are on the verge of break up or divorce as a way to separate from each other with the clear intention of getting back together. The separation ideally allows each person to determine or restructure their priorities and, yes, also ideally makes the heart grow fonder. But in any closer personal relationship – such as within a family or in a close friendship – there can come a time when it's a wise decision to take some time apart.

After all – if you're implementing some of these techniques to create healthy relationships in your life, you may actually live longer! And according to one of the study authors: "When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks.”

- Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil

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