Close Relationships Can Help You Live Longer and Healthier

By Beatriz Martinez

reviewed by juliana ascolani

Who would you call if you’re in trouble in the middle of the night? Who do you share your greatest achievements with? Who’s the person you always want to be with when you feel lonely? When it comes to building and maintaining close relationships, quantity is not as important as quality. If after reading each of these questions you had a person (or people) in mind, that means that you’re surrounded with the right people.

Studies have shown that about 25% of longevity variation is due to genetics. However, lifestyle choices also significantly contribute to human longevity. There are multiple ways of increasing the chances of living longer, such as physical exercise and eating healthily. However, taking care of our physical health is not the only way to increase the quality and length of our lives. It is true that social connections are vital when it comes to longevity, but what about the connection between close relationships and the likelihood of living longer?

 

The benefits of close relationships for longevity 

A study has shown that people with high-quality social relationships are 50% more likely to live longer than people with poor social connections. This meta-analysis included 148 studies involving more than 300.000 people. Researchers observed the participants for an average of 7.5 years to calculate the frequency and type of social relationships as well as health outcomes, including mortality. 

This study highlights two psychological observations. Firstly, people with quality close relationships receive more emotional support when dealing with difficult times, and that positively affects health outcomes. Secondly, family and friends motivate individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles. For example, if we have friends who are aware of the importance of a balanced and healthy diet, we might feel inspired to improve our own food habits. Likewise, if our family members usually take bike trips over the weekend, it’s more likely that we’ll adopt this kind of habit. When we feel emotionally supported during difficult times, we are more encouraged to accomplish our goals. This support has the potential to lessen the impact of worry, stress, and anxiety. Close relationships can help us improve all health dimensions, including our social health.

What can you do to strengthen your close relationships?

  • Being mindful with your thoughts: Thoughts are products of our mind; it’s important to remember that our thoughts don’t always reflect reality. Therefore, making assumptions instead of discovering what’s really going on can negatively affect our relationships. Communication is key to avoiding this.
  • Communicating openly: When irritated by the behaviors of others, it’s more beneficial to reflect on it instead of instantly reacting to it. Different attitudes can have different causes, and communication can help people talk about and deal with their emotions and feelings.
  • Listening attentively: Feeling supported and cared for is vital for our wellness. Listening to the people we care for when they most need it is important when building and maintaining healthy relationships. 
  • Being supportive: Preparing a cup of coffee for our colleague at work, showing our best friends how proud we are of their achievements, or even telling our parents how much we care about them can all help us strengthen our relationships. The attention and support others receive from us, even though they might not ask for it, can help them open up and share their concerns with us, which can further strengthen our bonds with them.
  • Being grateful: It is important to show your loved ones how much they mean to you and how grateful you are for their support. Showing our gratitude will bring joy to their lives as well as our own.
  • Enhancing your social intelligence: This refers to one’s ability to communicate and relate to others and to recognize how our emotions and attitudes can affect the way we interact with others. In addition, social intelligence helps us understand others’ behaviors.

Our busy routines can keep us from staying in touch with the people we care about. If you’re thinking about a friend, wondering how your cousin is doing, or you just recalled some memories you have with your former work colleague, write or call them right away. Leaving communication only for when we have “more time” can negatively affect the intimacy of our relationships over time. It’s possible that we’ll never find the time to get in contact with them even though we’re thinking about them, and they’ll never know because we’re unable to demonstrate it to them. And when we don’t talk or see friends or family for a long time, the intimacy can change as the lack of contact can negatively influence the quality of our close relationships.

Healthy relationships are based on communication, trust, and respect. Aside from personal relationships, the connections we make at work or within our neighborhood are also important for our overall wellness. When we’re dealing with difficult times, close relationships help us feel supported and can enhance our self-esteem and empower us to make important decisions.

Beatriz Martinez
I am a journalist specialised in international relations, and writing is my absolute passion. I translate my knowledge and feelings into words, a process that has become my profession and at the same time my personal healing practice. I believe that being curious about what surrounds us is the key to educating ourselves and to further being able to express it to others. I love reading and am mostly interested in politics, human rights, social movements, and the passionate world of health.
Researcher

Juliana Ascolani

I am a health researcher who bridges data science and health research with direct experience in healthcare and university institutions, passionately and collaboratively pursuing the integration and synergy of all key areas of health and wellness. I believe in inclusion as the main pillar of our society, especially when it comes to health. Promotion and prevention in health empower people to adopt healthy decisions, thus I have been working during the last years in the development of inclusive and holistic health systems. What do I enjoy the most about my job? Realizing how we are making a difference in people’s lives, and seeing the result in their health journeys. I enjoy the challenge of questioning new paradigms and creating debate around them.

Bonior, A. (2018, September 15). 10 Quick Ways to Strengthen a Friendship. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/friendship-20/201809/10-quick-ways-strengthen-friendship


Carr, D. C. (2015, March 15). Want to Live Longer? Make Good Friends. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-third-age/201503/want-live-longer-make-good-friends


Gilihan, S. J. (2019, June 11). 21 Daily Practices to Improve Your Relationship. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/think-act-be/201906/21-daily-practices-improve-your-relationship


Harvard Medical School. (2011, February). In Brief: Social relationships and longevity. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/social-relationships-and-longevity


Harvard Medical School. (2017, June). Can relationships boost longevity and well-being? Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/can-relationships-boost-longevity-and-well-being


Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLOS Medicine 7(7): e1000316. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316

Passarino, G., De Rango, F., & Montesanto, A. (2016). Human longevity: Genetics or Lifestyle? It takes two to tango. Immunity & ageing : I & A, 13, 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12979-016-0066-z

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