Following a study by Nerem, a four-decade study of the population has shown that our social world is the main determinant of our health. In the meantime, good health care probably represents only 10 to 20% of our overall health. The Rabbit Effect As I describe in my book, most of our health is determined by how we are treated in our daily lives at home, in relationships, in workplaces, schools, neighborhoods and beyond community.
And it comes down to kindness and positive relationships with others.
Goodness affects the health and aging of the microscopic cellular level. For example, welcome physical contact, such as a supportive hug from a loved one, releases a cascade of sensitive hormones such as oxytocin and serotonin. It also protects against infection. One study exposed 400 healthy volunteers to the cold virus and found that those who received daily hugs were 32% less likely to become ill. Even those who fell ill but received hugs did not get sick for that long.
Increasing research has shown repeated goodness, with the TLC that a parent offers to a child alters gene expression through a process known as epigenetics. In other words, the DNA itself does not change, but how the genetic code is translated. In this way, maintaining relationships and an environment helps people live longer and better.
The exciting advances in genetics show that protective DNA caps, called telomeres, are lengthened or shortened in response to supportive or stressful connections and environments. Longer telomere buffers are associated with a longer life span and reduced incidence of disease.
Positive Links A stress buffer that improves immune function, blood pressure, mood and recovery from injury. In fact, an 80-year longitudinal Harvard adult development study found that the biggest predictor of a long healthy life is not money, fame, intelligence or even genes ̵
Just as positive relationships reduce cortisol, inflammation and pain, we know that chronic loneliness is an important risk factor for illness. It increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and premature death and is as important a health risk factor as well as established risk factors such as smoking, alcoholism, high blood pressure or obesity.
The exciting news is that each and every one of us has the opportunity to increase kindness and connection in all areas of our lives.