Scientists have noticed that we tend to reflect the people we’re closest to — if our friends are optimists, it makes us more cheery, and if they have healthy lifestyle habits, we often improve our own. Large, long-term studies have begun decoding how social networks influence not only our moods but also our total health. Here’s what they found:
- The more social ties people have at an early age, the better their health at both the beginning and end of their life. Young people with a large social network over their life are less likely to have abdominal obesity, inflammation, and high blood pressure.
- Fewer social ties can lead to health problems. Social isolation increases risk of inflammation by the same amount as physical inactivity, and social integration protects against abdominal obesity.
- In middle adulthood what matters most is the amount of social support or strain provided by the social network. At this mid life stage, quality of the social network was more important than network size.
- In old age, social isolation is more harmful to health than diabetes with respect to hypertension risk.
Researchers also learned these things about happy people
- Happy people tend to be located in the center of their local social networks and in large clusters of other happy people.
- The happiness of an individual is associated with the happiness of people up to three degrees removed in the social network. For example, a friend who lives within a mile and who becomes happy increases the probability that you will be happy by 25%.
Happiness is, researchers suggest, a property of groups of people, and changes in individual happiness can ripple through social networks and generate large-scale change.
The happiness bottom line
We are social creatures, weaving social webs that influence our physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being, similar to the Buddhist analogy of a jeweled net in which each jewel, representing one individual, is linked to all other jewels by a complex woven structure. Your actions, deeds, and thoughts influence the whole. Be the shining jewel that you are!
Yang Claire Yang et al., Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2016;113(3):578-583.
Fowler JH, Cristakis N. Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart study. BMJ 2008;337:a2338.
Here is the scenario. A woman seeks my services, concerned and even fearful after having been told she has osteoporosis and should take a bone drug. We sit down and after a careful review of her case, I am led to ask, “What’s the real problem here? Is osteoporosis really the major issue?” Quite often, the answer is “no,” and then I ask, “Should we start by addressing bone, or is it more effective to start on another level?”
Here’s an example that reveals why:
Barbara came to consult with me about her doctor’s recommendation she should begin bone drugs. Barbara, a nurse, had suffered from an autoimmune disease for years that caused debilitating digestive issues. Between the ages of 47 and 50, she experienced an autoimmune flare that left her only able to eat a small amount of food at each meal. She became extremely debilitated and lost 25% of her body weight — and 14.9% of her spinal bone density — before she had identified dietary and lifestyle modifications that could quiet the autoimmune activity.
Her doctor’s insistence she use bone drugs was based on this rapid decrease in spinal bone density. But Barbara was now 53, her digestive issues were better, and her most recent DEXA showed only an insignificant loss in the spine — she’d even gained a bit in the hip.
Was osteoporosis really the problem to address first?
We realized that Barbara’s spinal bone density loss coincided with her serious, prolonged problem with esophageal spasms stemming from her autoimmune disorder and its related allergic responses. Rather than concentrate on her bones, it made more sense to address her autoimmune disorder, which was the likely root cause of her bone loss.
Changing our focus was also important because while Barbara’s bone density had stabilized and her digestion was better, she was still experiencing occasional esophageal spasms, palpitations, chest pain and fatigue. Any flare of these symptoms could lead to another bout of rapid weight and bone loss.
To help alleviate these concerns, I suggested Barbara undertake a partial elimination diet, alkalize her pH, use a few immune-enhancing and bone-building nutritional supplements, exercise and meditate daily. Within one month, Barbara reported she was feeling healthier and stronger than she had felt in the past six years. Our plan now is to undertake a comprehensive Better Bones, Better Body program for building both Barbara’s immunity and her bone strength. “Nourish the root to receive the fruit” is an ancient aphorism I keep in my back pocket — in this case to Barbara’s benefit.
Barbara’s happy to share my short video interview above with you. We both hope it will encourage each of you to look for the root causes of any excessive bone loss.
You’ve heard the old saying that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
But would it surprise you to know that an apple — or a carrot — also discourages the blues and makes you more engaged in life? That’s what research has found — repeatedly! — in recent years.
Research shows fruits and vegetables boost emotional well-being
- A 2016 study that focused on the food diaries of over 12,000 Australian adults found significant increases in emotional well-being of individuals who increased their intake of plant foods. This occurred within a relatively short (2-year) time span and could not be explained by other life changes.
- A 2014 study that looked at emotional health in 100 volunteers, half of whom snacked on fruit and the other half on chocolate or chips in mid-afternoon, found that those who ate fruit scored lower on measures of anxiety, depression, and emotional distress than those who ate junk food.
- And a 2015 study in 405 British young adults found not only improved emotional well-being, but increased creativity and curiosity as well, were reported by the subjects — not only in general, but in particular, on the specific days the study subjects reported eating more fruits and vegetables.
Changes can happen almost immediately
We’re all well aware of the long-term physical health benefits of a diet loaded with plant foods. Now these studies indicate that benefits to our emotional well-being occur in the short term once we start incorporating more fruits and vegetables into our daily food intake. The British study suggests that such changes may happen almost immediately!
Keep this in mind, the next time you reach for a snack like the delicious Green Agua Fresca.
Green Agua Fresca recipe: Combine a fruit and vegetable in this snack!
- 3 cups fresh watermelon
- 2 cups fresh spinach or other mild green
Mix in blender until smooth. Your drink will be bright green and taste entirely of sweet watermelon.
Smith AP, Rogers R. Positive effects of a healthy snack (fruit) versus an unhealthy snack (chocolate/crisps) on subjective reports of mental and physical health: a preliminary intervention study. Front Nutr. 2014 Jul 16;1:10. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2014.00010.
Mujcic R, Oswald A.J. Evolution of well-being and happiness after increases in consumption of fruit and vegetables. Am J Public Health. 2016 August; 106(8): 1504–1510.
Published online 2016 August. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2016.303260
Conner TS, Brookie KL, Richardson AC, Polak MA. On carrots and curiosity: eating fruit and vegetables is associated with greater flourishing in daily life. Br J Health Psychol. 2015 May;20(2):413-27. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12113. Epub 2014 Jul 30.