In a study that examined the link between relationships and health across all age groups, researchers at the University of North Carolina have found that feeling lonely can ‘vastly elevate’ a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. A lack of friends or family is as dangerous to your health as a lack of physical inactivity in youth or diabetes in old age, their research found.
Conversely, people who have the support of loved ones are less likely to develop health conditions—and more likely to have a longer life expectancy. The more social ties people have at an early age, the better their health is at the beginnings and ends of their lives. Not surprisingly it was the quality rather than the quantity of relationships that mattered most.
The author’s conclusions are that “doctors, clinicians and other health workers should redouble their efforts to help the public understand how important strong social bonds are throughout the course of all of our lives.”
Also, “it should be as important to encourage adolescents and young adults to build broad social relationships and social skills for interacting with others as it is to eat healthy and be physically active.”
As Matthew Edlund points out in his book The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone Is Not Enough, social support also decreases rates of depression, perhaps partly because “oxytocin, the hormone that increases one’s sense of warmth and emotional connectedness, is itself increased through social support. Animals that have more support from their fellows have better immune responses and less nasty responses to infection.”
In The Friendship Factor, psychotherapist Alan McGinnis goes so far as to say that “I have become more convinced than ever that a restoring and renewing power resides in friendship. If people availed themselves of the love available to them, many therapists like me could close up shop.”
How much health and strength are we sacrificing because we are not prepared to sacrifice the time and energy needed to build true friendships?
But if supportive human relationships can do this for our bodies and minds, how much more can Jesus Christ do for our souls! Jesus didn’t need the University of North Carolina to teach Him the connection between intimate relationships and a flourishing life. “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).