Forget vitamins and protein powder. (Keep exercising and eating well, though.) Friendships and social connections are key to your future health and wellness.
Start with your friendships.
Our friendships are some of the most valuable things we can invest in when it comes to our health, inside or out. Yet, men don’t usually heavily invest in these relationships after a certain point in their lives. This is even more important in the middle of a global pandemic as it has become more difficult to remain connected to our friends and social connections.
Healthy friendships are critically important for men and have both social and scientific benefits
Human beings are social animals and so, on the level of straight-up brain chemicals, there is a natural benefit to being among friends: time spent enjoying feelings of social validation and gratification releases and combats the harmful physiological effects of.
Over a lifetime, whether we live in isolation or among a network of friends, they have been shown to make a substantial difference, including living several years longer!
According to a 2010 meta-analysis, which drew findings from a review of 148 studies, having strong social relationships can translate into an increased likelihood of survival.
The study concluded that the impact of social relationships on determining whether we live long, healthy lives or get plucked from this world too early is just as impactful as well-established risk factors for death such as drinking and smoking.
It found that the negative impact can be even greater than a lack of exercise and obesity.
Building friendships is more challenging and important than ever
Just as feeling healthy in our body naturally leads toward feeling healthier in the mind, feeling unhealthy can also help pull us into not feeling well emotionally. The same kind of two-way relationship occurs between our physical health and our social connections.
Does the science say that happy brain chemicals as a result of enjoyable friendship experiences directly equate to healthier bodies and longer lives? Maybe, but it’s more complex than that.
Imagine, for example, the social guardrails that friendships give us. Imagine you decide, over one summer of pub patio nights, that the head rush and harsh taste of a cigarette taste nice after a few beers. Not all day, not every night, you tell yourself. But more and more, you reach for it.
If you are complacent or comfortable, you may not notice when you reach for that more and more.
Cue your friends, at your elbow, saying “Hey, bud, what’s going on behind this new habit?” or “Dude, you’re hacking, why do you keep smoking?”
If you were alone at that moment, would you get those tough-yet-kind questions? You probably wouldn’t ask them of yourself since those happy brain chemicals are a double-edged sword.
By being a person in a friendship, you have a landmark outside yourself. You have the social guardrails of someone who cares about you, who wants you to live longer and whose company makes you feel like living longer wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
If you don’t have those connections, it can lead to loneliness
Loneliness has been noted as the other pandemic taking place, apart from systemic racism and a certain global virus, and as men, we should take particular notice.
Why? Because of the way we have learned to live our lives, we often rely heavily, if not solely, on our romantic partners for social connection.
We grow up internalizing ideas that push us away from our male friendships when it’s our male friendships that will protect us the most from the risks of the world we’re growing into.
If (or when) our romantic relationships collapse, we seek out unhealthy entertainment, feel unhealthy in our bodies and feel unhealthy in our minds. You shacked up, started nesting, and dismissed as “juvenile” all the fun and/or dumb things you used to do with your buddies.
Sure, some of them were juvenile. Not every habit, passion, or long retold story is worth keeping throughout your entire life.
One thing that is worth keeping is the friends and bonds you create by being juvenile, by growing up, by working through the hard shit, by having a conversation that shows you care. So reach out to friends you haven’t heard from in a while. It’s not too late to reconnect and rebuild friendships and relationships within your existing network.