When we think about our health, the first things that come to mind are usually diet and exercise, not drinking too much, not smoking, taking our medicine, avoiding illness, and maybe paying attention to our psychological health—all very self-focused. But a long, ongoing study from Harvard suggests that one of the best ways to stay healthy is to build strong, meaningful relationships with friends and family.
Read on to learn why focusing on other people is good for your health.
The study details
The study’s full name is the Harvard Study of Adult Development, and it started in 1938 with two groups of men from the Boston area. One group was a group of Harvard students, and the other group was pulled from the inner city (read: Boston’s poorest neighborhoods). The study looked at a wide range of biological and lifestyle variables (covering everything from drinking habits to scrotum size) and tried to figure out the key to a long, healthy, happy life.
This is the longest study that has ever tracked the relationship between life choices and happiness. For 74 years, the study participants lived their lives and gave data (brain scans, blood tests, living room interviews, medical records) to the researchers. Sixty of the original participants are still alive. They’re in their 90s, and they’re still answering questions from the researchers.
According to Dr. Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of this long, ongoing study, the most important part of a long, healthy life is this: good relationships.
Not a lot of relationships.
Not marriage, necessarily.
Not even family, necessarily.
If people have healthy, meaningful relationships, they are simply happier and healthier. Period. In Dr. Waldinger’s words from a recent TED Talk, “The people who were the most satisfied with their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”
My Take on Healthy Relationships
I’m a holistic medicine guy. For decades I’ve been telling men things like “the upper half of their body is connected to the bottom half of their body,” that the penis is the “barometer” of their health, and that “everything is connected.” A TED Talk like this really resonates with me, because I believe health is more than just your body.
Like Dr. Waldinger says in his TED Talk, people are looking for quick fixes. The message of “healthy relationships” is hard because it’s not a pill you can take. You actually have to work on it for a long time, and you might not see results immediately. But the results you see later, apparently, are the ones that matter the most in life.
The Bottom Line
Good, healthy relationships aren’t going to reverse a diagnosis or prevent cancer. But they are going to make you healthier and happier.