The meaning of our relationships is often underestimated in our culture of the “individual.”
I was recently reading John Robbins’ Healthy At 100, and was again struck by this passage on p.230:
“It is a striking fact that mortality rates for all causes of death in the United States are consistently higher for divorced, single, and widowed individuals of both sexes and all ages.”
The importance of our relationships to our health is just beginning to be understood by the medical community. He continues on the next page:
“…Now the chair of the Department of Health and Social Behavior at the Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Berkman led an intensive study of seven thousand men and women living in Alameda County, California. She found that people who were disconnected from others were roughly three times more likely to die during the nine-year study than people with strong social ties. The kinds of social ties didn’t appear to matter. What mattered was being involved in some social network, whether it was family, friends, church, volunteer groups, or marriage.
The dramatic difference in health outcome and survival rates was found to occur regardless of people’s age, gender, health practices, or physical health status. But what most astounded researchers about this study was that those with close social ties and unhealthful lifestyles (such as smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise) actually lived longer than those with poor social ties but more healthful living habits. Needless to say, people with both healthful lifestyles and close social ties lived longest of all.”
A broken heart may be more literal that we had previously believed. The evidence is piling up on how our emotional states impact our physical health. Indeed the separation of those two, emotional states and physical health, may be a deadly illusion. Here we can see the impact the state of our relationships has on our health.
However, if that’s not enough for you, he cites another study only a few pages back (p.224) that profoundly impacted my attitude in my personal relationship.
“When researchers from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland studied almost ten thousand married men with no prior history of angina (chest pain from heart disease), they found that those men who had high levels of risk factors- including elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and electrocardiogram abnormalities- were more than twenty times as likely to develop angina during the next five years. They were amazed to discover, though, that those men who answered ‘yes’ to the simple question ‘Does your wife show you her love?’ had substantially less angina even when they had high levels of these risk factors.
In a related study… men who reported a low level of love and support from their wives at the beginning of the study were found to have more than twice as many ulcers in the ensuing five years as the other men. And those who said ‘My wife does not love me’ were almost three times as likely to develop ulcers. In this study, having feelings that their wives didn’t show them love and support was more strongly associated with ulcers than smoking, age, high blood pressure, or job stress.”
He goes on to give several more studies that continue to suggest that intimate and loving relationships can inoculate you from the negative medical effects of stress. Now that’s good medicine.
So then, what get’s in the way of our relationships with our spouses, friends, community and ourselves? If these relationships are so critical to our well being, what are the circumstances that cause a person to be taken out of relationship with others? The answers are becoming more clear and I will address that issue in upcoming posts. Stay tuned…