In the past few years, there has been a slew of revolutionary research indicating that behavioral factors like our ability to get along well with others and form a cohesive social group may have far-reaching impacts on our physical health. This research has grown out of a relatively new attitude toward health that is often associated the biopsychosocial model, which posits that our physical wellness is inextricably linked to psychological and social factors, as well as biological. The latest research concerned with social health examines the impact of trusting or mistrusting others.
New Scientist Magazine reported recently that new research indicates that an effective way of preventing chronic health conditions like heart disease is as simple as trusting others. Dr. John Cacioppo of University of Chicago, who has spent years studying the effects of social isolation, notes that developing a strong support group can be just as good for your health as quitting smoking.
Whatâ€™s more, new research has shown that the health benefits of socializing go beyond the mere fact that people tend to take care of themselves better when they are surrounded by people. Cacioppoâ€™s study showed that for people who perceive themselves as lonely, their immune systems were more conducive to fighting bacterial infections and physical trauma like wounds, whereas for those who do not consider themselves lonely, their immune systems were better at fighting viruses and long-term chronic conditions. This is thought to be an evolutionary response in which â€œlonersâ€ who separated themselves from a community were more subject to bacterial infections and physical attacks, whereas group-oriented people were more susceptible to viruses which can spread quickly among people who are in contact with others often.
Cacioppo also noted that the actual size of oneâ€™s social group had no bearing on health. Rather, it was how a person felt about their social group. In other words, it is just as good for your health to have only one or two friends whose company you find fulfilling than to have hundreds of acquaintances that still leave you feeling lonely. Cacioppo suggests that changing oneâ€™s attitude about others by learning to trust and not perceiving everyone as a threat is the most important thing to improve your overall well-being.
Another study on trust was conducted by Dr. Eilleen Bjornstrom, an assistant professor of sociology, found using a survey that those who trust their neighbors also happened to report better overall health, whereas those who did not trust their neighbors fared worse in terms of personal wellbeing.
If these studies are any indicator of what we must to do maintain our health, then next time you feel as though you must absolutely work out every day and eat all fruits and vegetables consistently, remember also that enjoying the company of friends and family is just as important.
Stella Walker is a freelance writerÂ who contributes articles to the health & fitness niche.