In case you’ve skimmed over it, there is an important reminder we include at the bottom of every Daily Tonic we send out that reads:
“Health isn’t just about food, movement, and mindset. It is also about the interactions we have and what we share with our fellow humans.”
When we discuss ways to optimize our health, we often talk about nutrition, exercise, sleep, hydration, and mindset. These are all obviously very important topics, but what we don’t usually talk about is our social connections (or lack thereof) and the impact that has on our health.
According to a recent Washington Post analysis, we spend way less time with friends today than in the past. Between 2010 and 2013, the amount of time the average American spent with friends was stable, at about 6.5 hours a week. In 2014, that number began to decline.
Fast forward to 2019, and the average American only spent 4 hours a week with friends. You do a little napkin math on that, and you get a steep 37% decline. Then the pandemic hit, which didn’t make social interactions any easier. Even when you expand the definition of “friends” to include neighbors, co-workers, and clients, you will see a similar decline.
And most Americans didn’t transfer this lost time with friends into spending more time with spouses, partners, or children. Nope. On average, we spend a lot more time alone.
So why are we becoming such loners? Some experts suspect that social media, political polarization, and technological advances have all made us lonelier than ever before. It is also worth noting that more than half of the population started owning a smartphone in 2014, coinciding with the first year we saw a decline in time spent with friends.
Social connection means everything to our health
So why is this such a big deal? Some people would argue that we are more connected than ever with our fellow humans. Thanks to the internet and other technological advances, we can now video chat with anyone all over the world. We can post a picture or a life update on Instagram or Facebook, instantly reaching all our family and friends, regardless of where they live.
But is that really a strong social connection? Or is our mobile device the only thing we are really connecting with?
According to a landmark study, a lack of social connection is a more significant determinant of health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. It also makes you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and antisocial behavior.
On the other hand, strong social connections strengthen the immune system, help you recover from disease faster, and may even lengthen your life.
The key takeaway? If you look at how our health is trending, it seems evident that friends and followers are not the same. The internet and social media have allowed us to connect with more people than ever before, but those connections are superficial and don’t seem to be doing our health any favors.
Spending time alone has its time and place, but spending too much time without strong social connections is making us sick and lonely. So reach out to a friend this holiday season, and make some plans to get together. It could be one of the best ways to finish the year on a high note that can really boost your health going into 2023.
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