This Daily Habit Is One Secret to a Longer, Healthier Life

Hint: it’s not kale.

By Phoebe Neuman

When we think about the different ways to live healthier lives, lifestyle changes like diet and exercise come to mind. For most of us, spending time with friends probably doesn’t beat out squeezing in a gym session or making sure you eat your leafy greens on your list of health priorities. But, consider this: Even the most introverted among us (this writer included!) knows that spending time with the people we love actually makes us physically better.

That’s because socializing is hardwired into our bodies to feel rewarding — and for good reason.

As it turns out, the health benefits of spending time with people are immense. Research into the world’s Blue Zones show that sustaining deep, often decades-long friendships are one of the reasons why the lucky few who live in Okinawa (where they form life-long groups of friends called moai) or Sardinia consistently clock in some of the longest lifespans on the planet. Similar studies conducted in the states have confirmed this as well: those of us with strong support networks lead more active, vibrant lives than those who don’t. So when your social schedule this holiday season starts to get overwhelming, remember this: Spending time with people is just as healthy as that intense workout you drag yourself to every week. (Could you ask for a better excuse to get the girls together?)

Still not convinced? Read on to discover why spending time with people may just be the secret to a longer, healthier life.

image by kristen kilpatrick

friends laughing over thanksgiving dessert

image by kristen kilpatrick

It Makes Us Happy

It’s really that simple. Being around people we love and trust is shown to boost serotonin levels in our brains, making us feel like the best versions of ourselves. Think the you that is less stressed, more focused, and better prepared to fight off things like the common cold and heart disease. So next time you’re feeling down in the dumps, play into your biology and reach out to a friend or even an acquaintance instead of retreating into Netflix. If our biology has anything to say about it, chances are the social interaction will boost your mood.

image by hannah haston

It Encourages Healthy Habits

Research has shown that certain behaviors can be practically contagious. And the fact that humans are wired to mirror the behavior of those around us means that there is some scientific backing for the idea that negativity encourages negativity and positivity encourages positivity. So if you surround yourself with positive people, you can expect to see the benefits of those good vibes ripple out to all areas of your life. When you have a support network in place that you can count on to lift you up (even if it’s just two or three people) chances are that you’ll maintain healthier habits than those who don’t. Next time that new friend of yours invites you on a hike or to a yoga class, go! You’ll be surprised at what other healthy habits it will encourage.

Date as Much As You Can (and Even Better: Date Someone Who’s Super Social)

image from it couple the soul mates and the sea

It Decreases Loneliness

Banishing loneliness is a fairly obvious benefit of spending time with people. What’s not so obvious, however, is that those who report feeling lonely or isolated have a higher chance of suffering from health issues like obesity and high blood pressure than those who have rich social lives. Crazy, right?

What’s key to realize here is that all of these loneliness-busting benefits only come from spending time with people IRL. Online relationships have their time and place, but social media is no healthy match for settling in for a long coffee with a friend.

image by kristen kilpatrick

It Challenges Us

All of the health benefits discussed so far come from positive interactions with those around us. But there’s no denying that there are plenty of social interactions we all have each day that we’d rather skip — meetings with difficult clients, uncomfortable conversations with your significant other, and trips to your in-laws included. But even these social interactions have a purpose. We learn and grow every time we have a conversation, and the positive effects of that kind of change come faster when we’re met with people and situations that irritate us or make us uncomfortable. So, keep that in mind next time your sat next to your aunt or uncle who doesn’t share your political views, and instead of feeling annoyed, stay open to what you might learn from the interaction. Because our brains love a puzzle – human ones included.