Health and Your Social Life

By Dr Ernst
November 1, 2017

Humans are social creatures. We have always banded together, whether it was in tribes, villages, cities, and now (for better or worse), online communities.

How you are viewed by others, spending time with people to whom you can relate, the quality of your long-term relationships–all of these things have an impact on your health. And I don’t mean just your mental health (which is a whole other ballgame). I mean your physical health.

Eating alone

Mealtimes are traditionally the locus of social interaction. Cooking, eating and cleaning up are often people’s most potent opportunities to spend time with their loved ones.

But as the modern world becomes busier and busier, the steady decline of the size of nuclear families, the rise in divorce rates and other factors combine, more and more of us are eating alone.

A recent study published in the journal, Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, found a link between eating alone and metabolic disorders. After interviewing 8,000 individuals about their eating practices and measuring their health data, they found that men who ate alone two or more times per day on average have a 64% increased risk of metabolic syndrome and a 45% increased risk of obesity. For women, they found they were 29% more likely to have metabolic syndrome if they ate alone more often than not.


Discussions regarding race relations are a regular feature of American (and likely many other countries’) societies. One challenge in any discussion about race is that it is difficult to measure. How can we measure how racist our society is? How can we measure how discriminated against someone feels? How can we link things like feelings or society-wide sentiments to more measureable data, like the prevalence of a given disease or economic status? It’s difficult, open to interpretation and debate, and generally THE problem of the social sciences.

Nevertheless, we are finding that experiencing discrimination has similar effects on health as stress–which is difficult on your heart, contributes to weight gain and affects sleep and immunity, just to name a few. Stress and its impact on health is something we’ve been able to measure–at least more accurately than racism. And, for example, when people report being the victim of discrimination regularly, they also have a higher rate of heart disease. And pregnant women who report high levels of discrimination give birth to babies with a lower-than-average birth weight.

General loneliness

Just this year, researchers from Brigham Young University conducted a meta-analysis of 148 studies on loneliness. The impact on health is shocking.

People who report feeling lonely run the gamut of health problems. It could be as relatively harmless as experiencing the symptoms of colds more acutely, and goes as far as being a very good indicator of premature death.

Lonely people are more likely to be obese, have diabetes, have heart disease and strokes.

Barriers and false solutions?

These three examples likely paint broad brushstrokes regarding the importance of social connections to your physical health. But as always, the question becomes: what should I do if I’m at-risk?

It’s a bit trite to simply tell someone to go make more friends, find yourself a life partner, or get out more and do more things. People face all sorts of barriers to a fulfilling social life, be they financial, geographical or those of their own mental construction.

This question of human connections has been particularly poignant since the rise of online social networks, things like online gaming communities, etc. Do these communities suffice? Are we growing closer? Are we making real connections?

Many think it’s a weak facsimile of real human connection, and I agree. Take a look at the Japanese concept of hikikomori. Nearly 1 million Japanese men refuse to leave their bedrooms, play video games and interact only with online communities. They are not happy people. 

Nothing is a proper substitute for an actual human connection: face-to-face conversation, quality time spent, group activity or human touch.

Real solutions

For the many of us who struggle with social connections, my decade as a doctor tells me that the argument that “it’s good for your health” isn’t enough motivation.

The truth is, social connections are THE KEY to happiness, as found by these researchers who were miraculously able to see a landmark longitudinal study through to the end of 100 men as they lived nearly their entire lives. I highly encourage you to watch the video. It is the missing piece of the puzzle for a happy and fulfilling life. To be properly dramatic: life is not worth living without close friends and family. And perhaps THAT is enough motivation.

Because ultimately, that is what’s required: willpower. To force oneself over the hump and go about the process of finding like-minded people. But for the more orderly of my readers, I shall provide a simple flowchart:

  1. Decide that you will make an important change in your life to enhance your social life and truly commit to doing what it takes to accomplish that.
  2. Discover, or remember, or conjure in your mind those activities you enjoy: Do/did you play the guitar? Are/were you a rock climber? Dungeons & Dragons? Do you like to read? It doesn’t matter, just figure it out.
  3. Consider the type of people you want to meet. Are you a man looking for women? Better not put all your eggs in the Dungeons & Dragons basket then. Are you wanting to be more physically active? Then cater your search to physically active social groups.
  4. Log onto something like, or peruse the online event calendars in your city, or scan Facebook events that are happening nearby. Map yourself out a social calendar. SCHEDULE NO LESS THAN 10 EVENTS FOR YOURSELF! 
  5. Actually drag yourself off the couch, into the car and to the event, putting aside your reservations, your excuses, your “social anxiety.”
  6. When you get there, talk to people. Put aside your insecurity, your superiority complex, your fear, or whatever it is that holds you back and actually strike up a conversation with the people who are there.
  7. Do it nine more times. You will have friends by the end of it.

You will be healthier. You will be happy.

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