When someone sets out to improve their health, they usually take a familiar path: starting a healthy diet, adopting a new workout regimen, getting better sleep. Each of these behaviors is important, but they all focus on physical health – and a growing body of research suggests that social health is just as, if not more, important to overall well-being.

One 2019 study, for example, found that the strength of a person’s social circle was a better predictor of self-reported stress, happiness and well-being levels than fitness tracker data on physical activity, heart rate and sleep. That finding suggests that the „quantified self“ portrayed by endless amounts of health data doesn’t tell the whole story, says study co-author Nitesh Chawla, a professor of computer science at the University of Notre Dame. „

„There’s also a qualified self, which is who I am, what are my activities, my social network, and all of these aspects that are not reflected in any of these measurements,“ Chawla says. „My lifestyle, my enjoyment, my social network – all of those are strong determinants of my well-being.“

Chawla’s theory is supported by plenty of research. Studies have shown that social support – whether it comes from friends, family members or a spouse – is strongly associated with better mental and physical health. A robust social life can lower stress levels, improve mood, encourage positive health behaviors and discourage damaging ones. Research has even shown that a social component can boost the effects of already healthy behaviors such as exercise.

Social isolation, meanwhile, is linked to higher rates of chronic diseases and mental health conditions, and may even catalyze cellular-level changes that promote chronic inflammation and suppress immunity. The detrimental health effects of loneliness have been linked to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s a significant problem, especially since loneliness is emerging as a public health epidemic in the U.S. According to recent surveys, almost half of Americans, including large numbers of the country’s youngest and oldest adults, are lonely.

Source: TIME Magazine