Tag Archives: social ties

Exercise Reduces Depression Risk

In past blogs I’ve told you about how exercise can help both prevent and treat depression. I also discuss this phenomena in my book, 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy.

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Now, along comes one of the largest studies ever published on the topic (of 40,000 Norwegians), which found that people who take regular exercise during their free time are less likely to have symptoms of depression and anxiety, a study of 40,000 Norwegians has found.

However, physical activity which is part and parcel of the working day does NOT have the same effect. Writing in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers said it was probably because there was not the same level of social interaction. Here are the details from the BBC:

The mental health charity Mind said that exercise and interaction aids our mental health. Higher levels of social interaction during leisure time were found to be part of the reason for the link.

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London teamed up with academics from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the University of Bergen in Norway to conduct the study.

Participants were asked how often, and to what degree, they undertook physical activity in their leisure time and during the course of their work.

Researchers also measured participants’ depression and anxiety using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale.

People who were not active in their leisure time were almost twice as likely to have symptoms of depression compared to the most active individuals, the study found.

But the intensity of the exercise did not seem to make any difference.

Social benefits

Lead researcher Dr Samuel Harvey, from the Institute of Psychiatry, said: “Our study shows that people who engage in regular leisure-time activity of any intensity are less likely to have symptoms of depression.

“We also found that the context in which activity takes place is vital and that the social benefits associated with exercise, like increased numbers of friends and social support, are more important in understanding how exercise may be linked to improved mental health than any biological markers of fitness.

“This may explain why leisure activity appears to have benefits not seen with physical activity undertaken as part of a working day.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said that lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise are known to have a positive impact on mental well-being.

“Exercise gives you a natural high and is a great way to boost your mood. However, another mental health benefit of physical activity is derived from social interaction.

“So going out with a running club, taking part in a team sport or working on a communal allotment is far better for your mental well-being than a physically demanding job.

“Mind has found that after just a short country walk 90% of people had increased self-esteem,” Mr Farmer said.

Having a Sister Can Be Good For Your Emotional Health

My wife’s sister, Sue, is in town this week. Barb and Sue are extremely close and are having a wonderful time together. So, in honor of Barb and Sue, here’s a report from USA Today on the health benefits of having a sister:

Sisters can fend off ex-boyfriends, mean gossip — and also, apparently, depression.

Having a sister protects young teens “from feeling lonely, unloved, guilty, self-conscious and fearful,” according to a study released in the Journal of Family Psychology. Researchers from Brigham Young University studied 395 families from Seattle with two or more children. At least one child in each family was between ages 10-14.

The research, conducted in 2007 and 2008, found that affectionate siblings have positive influences on each other no matter their age, gender, or how many years they are apart.

Loving brothers and sisters promote behaviors such as kindness and generosity. They also protect against delinquency and depression, says Laura Padilla-Walker, assistant professor in BYU’s School of Family Life.

According to the study, having a sister prevents depression more than having a brother. This may be because girls are better at talking about problems or are more likely to take on a caregiver role, Padilla-Walker says.

The study also found that siblings have twice as much influence than parents over performing good deeds — including volunteering, doing favors for others and being nice to people.

“Siblings matter even more than parents do in terms of promoting being kind to others and being generous,” Padilla-Walker says.

However, siblings who fight can have the opposite effect. Brothers and sisters who exhibit hostility toward each other are more likely to portray aggressive behaviors in other relationships, says James Harper, BYU professor in the School of Family Life.

Parents should be doing everything they can to help their children get along, he says.

“I would try to eliminate hostile name-calling, yelling as much as I could in sibling relationships and get them to exhibit more cooperative behavior,” he says.

But no matter how much a parent intervenes, siblings have a unique power over each other.

“Siblings are people that a child lives with every day and yet we haven’t really seriously considered their influence,” Harper says.

The researchers say they were surprised to find sibling influence was stronger in families with two parents than one.

Padilla-Walker says a child with a single parent may become a “parent figure” to a younger sibling, which changes the typical brother or sister role.

Whether you have a sister or not, improving your family and social relationships can improve your health. In my book, 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy, I discuss what I call the “four wheels of health”: physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational.

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In the book I say, that relationships are so important to health, that people should “avoid loneliness like the plague.”

If you’d like to learn more on improving your relationship health, pick up a copy of my 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy.

And, for those of you who are married, consider reading together my and Barb’s book, His Brain, Her Brain: How divinely designed differences can strengthen your marriage.

His Brain, Her Brain

Also, you can purchase these and my other autographed books here.

Having good friends appears to ‘boost’ survival

Last week I blogged on the topic that “Strong relationships improve chances of living longer.” Now, another study is showing that having a good network of friends and neighbours boosts survival chances by 50%. Here are the details from a report from the BBC:

A Brigham Young University team number-crunched data from nearly 150 studies looking at survival odds and social networks.

And they calculate that having few friends is as damaging to survival as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being alcoholic, PLoS Medicine reports.

They believe caring about others makes us take better care of ourselves.

But they warn that in today’s modern world social networks are deteriorating as we struggle to juggle careers and families and find a happy work-life balance.

Losing this social support, they say, cuts survival odds far more than being obese or not exercising.

Lead researcher Julianne Holt-Lundstad says there are many ways in which friends, colleagues, and family can boost health and wellbeing.

“When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks.”

In their study, which looked at over 300,000 people from four continents over a period of seven years, those with the strongest social networks fared best in terms of health outcomes and lifespan. They were nearly twice (1.5 times) as likely to be alive at any given age than those who were lonely.

The study included people of all ages and backgrounds, yet the findings remained the same and regardless of initial health status.

Co-researcher Timothy Smith said: “The effect is not isolated to older adults. Relationships provide a level of protection across all ages.”

But he warned that modern conveniences and technology can lead some people to think that face-to-face social networks are not necessary.

“We take relationships for granted as humans – we’re like fish that don’t notice the water. That constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically but directly to our physical health.”

Christine Northam, a counsellor for Relate, said friendship was essential to human survival.

“We are designed to live and work in groups. It starts in childhood with our family, then school widens our social network.

“Relationships sustain us and help our mental health and wellbeing. Isolation, on the other hand, is linked with mental illness, anxiety and ill health.”

Michelle Mitchell of Age UK said illness could be a barrier to maintaining social networks.

“It’s well known that social relationships are extremely important to older people’s wellbeing, yet sadly one-in-10 over-65s say they always or often feel lonely.

“Many people in later life struggle to maintain social networks due to mobility difficulties, access to transport or following the death of a spouse. The isolation and loneliness many face can also lead to symptoms of depression, affecting one-in-four older people.

She said Age Concerns across the country offer older people a place to socialise and meet new people. “We run a range of activities such as lunch clubs, computer courses and exercise classes, as well as one-to-one befriending schemes for people who need extra support.”

Professor Sally Macintyre, director of the Medical Research Council’s Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, said: “Policymakers and health care staff should note this important finding, and we need to build on it to find out how we can use social relationships to reduce the risk of death.”

In my book, 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy, I discuss what I call the “four wheels of health”: physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational.

10 E's

In the book I say, that relationships are so important to health, that people should “avoid loneliness like the plague.”

If you’d like to learn more on improving your relationship health, pick up a copy of my 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy.

And, for those of you who are married, consider reading together my and Barb’s book, His Brain, Her Brain: How divinely designed differences can strengthen your marriage.

His Brain, Her Brain

Also, you can purchase these and my other autographed books here.

Strong relationships improve chances of living longer

In my book, 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy, I discuss what I call the “four wheels of health”: physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational.

10 E's

In the book I say, that relationships are so important to health, that people should “avoid loneliness like the plague.” Now, CBS Evening News is reporting, “Researchers at Brigham Young said today strong relationships can improve your chances of living longer by 50%.”

Time reported, “A healthy social life may be as good for your long-term health as avoiding cigarettes, according to a massive research review released Tuesday by the journal PLoS Medicine.” After examining “pooled data from 148 studies on health outcomes and social relationships — every research paper on the topic they could find, involving more than 300,000 men and women across the developed world,” researchers “found that those with poor social connections had on average 50% higher odds of death in the study’s follow-up period (an average of 7.5 years) than people with more robust social ties,” an increase in longevity comparable to that between smokers and non-smokers.

“It’s difficult to say why relationships matter so much to human health,” the Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog reported. “It could be that people who are connected to others take better care of themselves, take fewer risks, or find more meaning to their lives.”

“Regardless of age, sex, initial health status, cause of death, and follow-up period in the individual studies, the new analysis finds that those with stronger relationships have an increased likelihood of survival,” the CNN “The Chart” blog reported.

If you’d like to learn more on improving your relationship health, pick up a copy of my 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy.

10 E's

And, for those of you who are married, consider reading together my and Barb’s book, His Brain, Her Brain: How divinely designed differences can strengthen your marriage.

His Brain, Her Brain

Also, you can purchase these and my other autographed books here.

Unexpected Consequences of Twitter, Facebook, and the Self-Esteem Movement?

Here’s an interesting story that I’ve excerpted from an article, “Twitter and YouTube: Unexpected Consequences of the Self-Esteem Movement?” published in the Psychiatric Times.

To Americans over 30, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are buzzwords that lack much meaning. But to those born between 1982 and 2001—often referred to as “millennials” or “Generation Y”—they are a part of everyday life.

For the uninitiated, these Web sites are used for social networking and communication. They are also places where individuals can post pictures and news about themselves and express their opinions on everything from music to movies to politics.

Some sites, such as YouTube, allow individuals to post videos of themselves, often creating enough “buzz” to drive hundreds and even thousands of viewers; in some instances, these videos create instant media stars—such as the Obama imitator.

Although baby boomers and members of “Generation X” are signing up for these sites, it is the youth market that drives their appeal. While on the surface, they are touted as venues for networking and communication, they may, ultimately, be eroding real relationships and social contacts much as e-mail, instant messaging and “texting” have replaced cards, letters, and phone calls.

This technology may be interfering with the normal development of a generation, prolonging the “normal” narcissism of adolescence and preventing the establishment of mature relationships.

Rather than learning critical lessons about emotional sensitivity to others and reciprocity in relationships, our youth are creating alternate, solipsistic realities where they are the focus of attention. Those who do not agree are simply excluded from their inner circle.

Thus, these technological advances may be fostering a sense of isolation, alienation, and (at worst) promoting a tendency toward narcissism that may ultimately lead to an increase in violence and aggression.

What makes such sites appealing to “millennials”?

Web pages posted on social networking sites tend to be filled with photographs and writings expressing the opinions of the individual. In some cases, they are examples of exhibitionism at its most extreme.

Yet, the number of videos uploaded to YouTube and “tweets” sent on Twitter increase exponentially by the day.

The prevailing assumption is that everyone has something to say that is worthy of the attention of the masses.

This is a generation screaming for attention and recognition, seeking their promised “15 minutes of fame.” And millennials often go to great lengths to get it, posting suggestive and downright salacious photos of themselves or uploading outrageous videos.

The reward for bad behavior is, it seems, instant fame as measured by “hits,” “views,” and “followers.”

If this trend continues, fueled even more by technology, the implications are disturbing.

Narcissism, at its most malignant, fosters lack of empathy, poor impulse control, and frank aggression when insult or threat is perceived, particularly in the context of social rejection.

It is the most extreme narcissistic individuals who tend to be the most dangerous.

While it can be argued that any perceived increases are small, at best, they cannot be minimized. Small changes on a bell curve are most apparent, not at the average, but at the extremes. Therefore, even small increases over time will foster the development of greater numbers at the far end of the curve.

The rise of social networking sites is indeed a disturbing trend that may be continuing to fuel the narcissism of a generation becoming more desperate than ever to maintain their fragile self-esteem. By investing more and more time and energy in a virtual world where they can maintain their sense of importance and specialness, they risk even more disappointment when confronted with the harsh realities of life.

Relationships become shallower and more fleeting; self-interest exceeds the common good. The costs of narcissism, then, are paid by the society at large.

And since millennials equate their very existence with their self-image, they may react aggressively to protect it.

Anything that threatens their ability to maintain their false sense of self is considered a threat to life itself.

As such, the dangerousness of the millennial generation may yet be actualized.

My friend, Christian Psychiatrist, Todd M Clements, MD, commented about the article on the Christian Medical Association website:

The amount of time that Americans are spending on social networking Websites is overwhelming and steadily growing. More than one-third of all Internet use today is devoted to social networking on sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and My Space.

While touted as networks for relationship building they may ultimately be eroding real relationships. This technology can prolong the “normal” narcissism of adolescence, preventing the establishment of mature relationships.

These homepages are filled with empty-talk, self-absorption and even frank exhibitionism.

People rate their popularity, or stature in life, by the sheer number of followers they attract on their website. Recent studies of college students found that those who spent the most time on these networking sites scored much higher on narcissistic scales.

They also rated themselves as isolated and very lonely.

While networking Websites, like Facebook, can allow us to re-connect with old classmates, or keep up with the daily life of friends who live far off, they can also squander valuable time.

Several pastors broached this subject recently, in a meeting I attended, as they relayed their experience in counseling congregation members who have marriages on the brink due to “excessive facebooking.” In most cases it was the wife who was consumed by this from early evening until wee hours of the morning.

Our psychiatry office now receives daily calls for help from exasperated spouses or parents.

Studies at Oxford University have shown that Twitter is the perfect model of intermittent variable reward, which is the strongest addictive pattern.

Unfortunately computer screen interactions don’t build empathy, mutual gratification, or a realistic sense of self. They can bring self-gratification and pleasure, particularly at first, but in the end leave you more lonely, and isolated.

The Apostle Paul reminds in 1 Corinthians 16:3 to be on our guard—and do everything out of love.”

Friends, Not Grandkids, Key to Happy Retirement

In my book 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy, I talk about “avoiding loneliness like the plague.” (more information on the book and free resources at the end of this blog) In other words, I stress that a strong social network bodes well for golden years. Now, another study finds this to be true. Here are the details in a report from HealthDay News:

It’s said that one of the joys of old age is taking pleasure in your grandchildren, but an English research team begs to differ.

An active social life, being married and having a partner who is also retired all make a huge difference in seniors’ enjoyment of life, but having children or grandchildren matters little, the University of Greenwich team found in its study of 279 British retirees.

Grandchildren are a source of pride, but there are trade-offs to having them, said lead researcher Oliver Robinson, of the university’s department of psychology and counseling.

“There are both benefits and drawbacks to the presence of children and grandchildren in retirement, which balance each other out,” Robinson said.

“The positives are that having children and grandchildren imparts a sense of purpose and meaning, while the drawback is the frequent commitment for child care that can potentially interfere with the sense of freedom and autonomy that is at the heart of a positive retirement.”

Robinson and his team were to report their findings … at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Study participants, who were recruited from a retirement Web site and online newsletter, answered questions about family, friends and their life in retirement. They also completed a scale designed to measure their satisfaction with their lives.

The researchers found no difference in life satisfaction between retirees who have children and grandchildren and those who don’t.

But a strong social network tended to have a major positive effect on retirees’ enjoyment of life. Seniors with high levels of life satisfaction strongly agreed with the statement, “I have active social groups I enjoy spending time with.” Conversely, seniors who aren’t enjoying life much strongly agreed with the statement, “I miss the socializing of working life.”

“Social groups in retirement, particularly those that revolve around shared interests, can provide a retiree with a number of basic psychological needs — a sense of connectedness, of purpose, and of mastery if there is a skill involved,” Robinson said. “The great retirement trap is loneliness, and active social groups negate the possibility of that.”

American retirees have expressed similar sentiments regarding what makes their life most enjoyable, said Rosemary Blieszner, associate dean of the graduate school at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and director of the Center for Gerontology.

“Older adults are very interested in their grandchildren and want them to succeed, but really, I think that most of your happiness and psychological well-being is going to come from your peers,” Blieszner said.

“For many stages of life, not just old age, people feel like their age peers understand what they’re going through and give them that social support that comes from friendship and understanding.”

Having a spouse or a longtime partner also matters significantly when it comes to enjoyment of retired life, the British team found. Seniors who are widowed, never married, divorced or separated reported lower levels of life satisfaction than people in long-term relationships.

It also makes a difference whether your partner is retired along with you. The study found that retirees whose spouse or partner is still working enjoyed their life less than those who have been joined in retirement by their partner.

“Those retirement individuals whose partner is not retired miss their work lives more, perhaps because they are unable to fully engage with retirement,” Robinson said.

“They are in a kind of limbo state, unable to make plans for long holidays or a substantial change of life until the retirement of their partner happens,” he added.

“When a couple retire together, they can plan aspirationally together, and help each other adapt to the new life phase.

If you want to read more about this and other ways to build a happy and healthy life, consider reading my book, 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy:

  • You can order a signed copy here.
  • Find the Table of Contents here.
  • Find the Forward here.
  • Find Chapter One here.
  • And, last but not least, find a free Reader’s Study Guide here (can be used by an individual or small group).

What Are Friends for? A Longer Life!

Tara Pope, one of my favorite columnists, reports in the New York Times: “In the quest for better health, many people turn to doctors, self-help books or herbal supplements. But they overlook a powerful weapon that could help them fight illness and depression, speed recovery, slow aging and prolong life: their friends.” How important is your relational health (your friends, your spouse, and your social support) to your physical, emotional, and spiritual health? You may be surprised.

More Information: Continue reading

Social Ties May Help Cut Dementia Risk

WebMD Health News is reporting a study funded by the National Institute on Aging showing that elderly women who maintain close friendships and strong family ties are less likely to develop dementia than women who are less sociable.

My Take?

This study just adds to the scores that confirm that strong social networks can protect against dementia and many other diseases and disorders. Continue reading