There is no question that social relationships are among the most important factors contributing to longevity. The stress of social isolation can leave us vulnerable to disease and is a major source of depression. There have been more than a hundred studies confirming effects of isolation and the positive effects of socializing on both our health and general emotional wellbeing. What has been less clear is whether engaging in social give-or-take (such as babysitting, running errands, etc.) could actually extend our lives — until now.
Surprisingly both actions — giving and taking — extend longevity, according to a new study by researchers at the Institute of Policy Health. The team, led by Edith Chen, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University, analyzed the responses of over 6,200 U.S. adults who had completed the Survey of Midlife Development between 1995-1996.
Those answering the survey estimated how many hours each month they either gave or received social support. These data were then compared with the National Death Index through October 2018. What did the researchers discover?
Both giving and receiving help us to live longer. But it was the number of monthly hours devoted to either give or take that made all the difference.
It’s also important to include ourselves when it comes to giving. Research has shown that self-care not only helps us stay physically healthy, but it also fosters resilience, makes us happier and reduces stress. And it doesn’t mean you need to spend money at a fancy spa or resort. Examples of self-care include:
- Getting enough sleep.
- Spending time in nature.
- Eating healthy foods.
- Feeling and expressing gratitude.
- Giving attention to a hobby you enjoy.
When you feel there’s not enough time in the day to help others and to take care of yourself, remember what the Buddha said: “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).