If there's one thing that scientists, philosophers, therapists and spiritual leaders all seem to agree on, it's that personal relationships matter.
Who you're connected to, and how, can have a profound effect on everything from your personal happiness, stress and anxiety levels and finances to your physical appearance -- and studies increasingly show -- your health. And we're not just talking romantic relationships here. All matter of interpersonal connections can have a direct impact on your wellbeing, oftentimes, for the better.
In celebration of that fact, we've rounded up seven of the totally amazing ways relationships can boost your health. Think of it as our way of nudging you to call that long-lost friend, say OK to that blind date, kiss your partner the minute he or she walks through the door, sneak out of the office a few minutes early to hang with your kids, invite your own mom for a cup of coffee, or do whatever it is you need to do to get your relationship on.
Relationships Can Help Boost Cancer Survival ...
A just-published study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology suggests that marriage may help improve cancer survival rates. According to the findings, men and women who were married were about 20 percent less likely to die of cancer during the three-year study period, regardless of how advanced the disease was (although it's worth noting that the benefits appeared to be stronger for men).
The "why" isn't clear, and the study does not establish cause and effect, but researchers hypothesize that having someone who cares for you and who helps you understand your diagnosis might be behind the connection. And it's not the first study to show a link; a paper published in November 2012 found that socially isolated women were more likely to die of breast cancer than their counterparts with close social ties.
... And They Can Help You Cope With Cancer.
Last spring, the same researchers who looked at how social ties may influence breast cancer survival published a study that found that breast cancer patients who regularly have positive social interactions -- and who have strong support overall -- are better able to deal with the associated emotional stress and pain of cancer. "Social support helps with physical symptoms," study researcher Candyce Kroenke, an investigator with Kaiser Permanent's Division of Research said in a statement.
Being Social Can Combat Cognitive Decline ...
As Time reports, a 2011 study that followed a group of more than 1,000 older adults, (whose average age was roughly 80) found that the most social seniors had a 70 percent reduction in their rates of cognitive decline over several years, versus their least social counterparts. According to Time,the same team of researchers previously found that sociability also decreased the likelihood of becoming physically disabled.
... And Strong Social Ties Can Boost Longevity.
A 2010 review of roughly 150 studies measuring the frequency of human interaction and health outcomes, found that having strong social connections can improve a person's odds of survival by 50 percent. Conversely, so-called "low social interaction" was found to be more harmful than not exercising, twice as harmful as obesity, and the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day Psych Central reported. Why? “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,” one of the study authors told that publication.
Friends Can Help You Lose Weight.
When it comes to relationships and weight, the overall picture is a bit complicated: Some studies suggest that women are likely to gain weight after getting married. But as The Daily News reports, a 2012 study found that friendships can influence weight in more positive ways. High school students were more likely to lose weight, or gain it at a slower rate, if they had a slimmer group of friends. However, that same study also found the opposite to be true: students with friends heavier than they were were more likely to gain weight.
What we take away from this is that surrounding yourself with people who have healthy lifestyle habits can help you emulate them. Worry less about how small or large your waistline is, and more about using your social connections to motivate yourself to exercise and eat well.
Motherhood Can Make You Act Healthier.
A BabyCenter poll of more than 20,000 moms found that once women entered into motherhood, 83 percent said they ate more healthfully, or were trying to improve their diets, while 65 percent said they were exercising more (or planned to) and 69 percent said they were keeping a closer eye on their mental health. That last one is extremely important, as motherhood can also have negative effects on women's mental health, namely, through postpartum depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 8 and 19 percent of women report experiencing frequent postpartum depression symptoms.
Marriage Can Help Your Heart (In More Ways Than One).
As LiveScience reports, a preliminary study presented last August found a link between marriage and reduced cardiovascular risk factors, like high blood pressure, among women specifically. And the longer the marriage, the bigger the benefits appeared to be: Every 10 years of continuous marriage was tied to a 13 percent decrease in cardiovascular risk, LiveScience explains.