“Social relationships, or the relative lack thereof, constitute a major risk factor for health—rivaling the effect of well established health risk factors such as cigarette smoking, blood pressure, blood lipids, obesity and physical activity”

—House, Landis, and Umberson; Science 1988 [1]


Should we exercise? Yes. Eat well? Yes. Have access to clean air? Yes. Quit smoking and excess alcohol consumption? Yes!

But when we look at long term health protection, what tops the list are concepts related to social connection.

In particular, social integration and close relationships.

Social integration relates to how much we interact with people – this includes weak and strong bonds. Talking with your neighbour or the person walking their dog, being involved in bridge games or book clubs, talking with people at your gym, or your local butcher. Community or church involvement. The person making your coffee.

Close relationships refer to our stable relationships – those that we can count on. And lean on in times of need.

“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to both well-being and survival. Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University. “Yet an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.”

As we spend more time online, we are becoming increasingly lonely. Missing out on the immune benefit, feelings of trust, feel good hormones and stress reduction that are bolstered with face to face contact.

So talk… connect. Reach out to those people in your life that you love, but that you haven’t connected with in some time because of life’s business. Smile at the person making your coffee. Ask them about their day. Look for opportunity to connect with your community – be it your neighbourhood, your church, art class, sport or whatever interests you. Make a plan to meet an old friend for tea, rather than simply messaging on a social media platform. And next time you want to make a purchase, see if this item can be found locally – walk in the shop. Smile at the employee. And chat.

You will benefit yourself – and your neighbour.

So smile. Connect. Listen. Chat.

And save the clicking for another day.