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Habits of Healthy Relationships

The journey to optimal wellbeing means going far beyond weight loss. Reaching a healthy weight will always be one of the most critical steps forward, but it is one facet of the bigger picture of your health. If we stop at Habits of Healthy Weight Control, we potentially undermine our longevity as well as our long-term ability to thrive at a healthy weight.

The relationships we have with our families and friends may not feel as concretely tied to your health as, say, what you eat or what you did at the gym today, but the science is pretty conclusive: loneliness and social isolation can potentially shorten our longevity.

The factors and mechanisms are far-reaching. Across multiple studies, a lack of healthy relationships has been found to increase inflammation, disrupt immune responses, and even contribute to cognitive challenges ranging from decline to dementia. Dr. Dhruv Khullar, a physician and researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine, went as far to describe this problem as a “growing epidemic” in a New York Times article on social isolation.

In the Habits of Health System, we describe this area of health as Habits of Healthy Relationships, and that’s a deliberate choice. Terms like loneliness and social isolation don’t tell the whole story. For example, this 2012 study found that lonely individuals were typically surrounded by people. They did not live alone, and they were often married. Other researchers have found that social isolation, which seems to be a predictor of potential health problems as well, is not always accompanied by feelings of loneliness.

That’s a bit surprising, right?

Dr. Holt-Lunstad, an expert on this topic from Brigham Young University, sums it up nicely in a New York Times interview: “If we recognize social connections as a fundamental human need, then we can’t discount the risks of being socially isolated even if people don’t feel lonely.”

Social connections are a fundamental human need. We need to be around others, and we need to have healthy, meaningful connections with them.

While this facet of optimal wellbeing warrants a book-length breakdown, we can cover a few key starting points and suggestions here. Try the following:

  • Be a part of a community. This could mean starting a hobby, volunteering regularly for a local nonprofit, or going all-in on being a part of the OPTAVIA network. When you tie relationships to something that is personally meaningful for you, it’s much easier to stay active and engaged.
  • Make relationships part of your routine. If you are not naturally outgoing, make it a point to reach out to loved ones at least once a week. A simple check-in phone call can go a long way in the hearts of the people you care about, and many times the people on the other end will be grateful that you took the initiative.
  • Your workouts can be social too. Group fitness classes are a great way to incorporate social connections into your Habits of Healthy Movement. You should also consider finding a walking buddy, someone to share regular walks with so that you aren’t exercising alone, have someone to hold you accountable, and have a source of good conversations.
  • Take your mental health seriously. If your feelings of loneliness or social isolation feel too intense to address on your own, don’t be afraid to reach out to a counselor or therapist. Talking to an expert can help you overcome even the largest obstacles and guide you toward a better you.

What are your tips for building healthy relationships? How do you create and strengthen these habits? Share your insights in the comments below!

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