by Robert Walker, Program Director at ‘Ekahi Ornish Lifestyle Medicine
Content adapted from Ornish Living Magazine, Available online at www.ornishliving.com
Hawaii has always taken pride in its tight-knit communities. A recent study by the University of Hawaii showed that compared to the mainland, families in Hawaii are more likely to be active members in their communities – and more likely to stick together in times of need. The study attributes this to the importance of ‘ohana within Hawaii’s culture – a concept that often extends to our extended families and our friends.
Research shows that the less isolated we are, the more likely we are to do better during times of need. But there are other positive benefits to socializing – a 2008 poll by Gallup found that people are happiest on days where they spend 6-7 hours of social time with family and friends. And an active social life can be a key predictor of longevity too – most people are aware that diet and exercise are predictors of longevity, but few realize that a lack of social connection is associated with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and depression. Vivek Murthy – the former Surgeon General of the United States – once wrote that social connection is so important that a lack of it is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
Another study showed that seniors who socialized regularly had a 70% reduction in the rate of their cognitive decline when compared to their less social peers.
Social media doesn’t count either – a 2017 study by the American Journal of Epidemiology found that those who use Facebook had none of the benefits that came with socializing. It even had a negative effect on self-esteem, because it caused individuals to compare themselves to others in negative ways.
But not everybody socializes the same way. Just because we live in a tight knit community does not mean that we always have the time – or opportunity – to socialize. Luckily, you don’t need to speak to someone face to face for several hours a day to reap the benefits of socializing. Being in an environment with other people can have the same effect. Some ideas include:
- Visiting family and friends (more frequently).
- Participating in activities such as volunteering.
- Going to sporting events or playing on a team. You don’t have to be athletic to join a bocce ball team or a bowling league. It’s not just for the competition. Quite often scoring uses the handicap system to accommodate different skill levels. The benefit comes from the joy of being around others.
- Becoming an active member of a civic club.
Other ideas include:
- Joining an art class.
- Joining a cooking class.
- Joining a book club.
- Signing up for an exercise class – many gyms here offer them!
- Playing board games or online video games.
- Getting together to watch and discuss films.
Regardless of how you go about connecting with others, remember that it should be in a way that is enjoyable to you. That way you’ll be inspired to do it often.
‘Ekahi Health, a member of the ‘ike family of companies (www.ikehawaii.com), is an innovative healthcare delivery organization that provides comprehensive community-based care focusing on primary care and prevention and wellness. It was the first organization to offer the Ornish program to the people of Hawaii.