Ahhh February–the month we celebrate love and relationships of all kinds–romantic, yes, but also friendship and familial love. Relationships truly are worth celebrating. They are intrinsic to both our enjoyment and quality of life as humans, and they have a huge impact on our physical health.

One meta-analysis of social relationships and mortality risk found that people with stronger social relationships had a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2910600/). To put it another way, the number and quality of strong relationships in someone’s life influenced their health as much as known risk factors like smoking and alcohol consumption and exceeded the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.

Or take another study released just last week that found that social isolation and loneliness increased the risk of heart disease in older women by as much as 27 percent (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/02/220202111730.htm). That number is staggering; it should shake us up. It’s time to pay some very serious attention to how we as a society prioritize relationships and what interventions can help offset isolation and loneliness, particularly as we age. A card on Valentine’s Day isn’t enough. We need sustainable, proven solutions that create and maintain connection for people.

Thankfully there are other studies whose statistics provide hope moving forward. Researchers from UnitedHealthcare and AARP piloted programs to address what are known as Personal Determinants of Health (PDoH)---personal attributes such as resiliency, purpose and relationships that impact health---and found that 48 percent of the people involved in these programs improved their social connections. New research on LifeBio’s use, with people 65+ living at home with a tech-powered phone intervention, determined that lonely people became less lonely (reduced by 15 percent) with life stories as the tool to connect peers. 

In this month of love and relationships, take a moment to reflect on who in your life might need an extra meaningful connection or a more frequent visit or phone call. Consider who might be isolated and see if there’s a way you could include them in your weekly routine. Call your best friend from high school. Ask a question or get advice from your neighbor, and take the time to be an engaged listener. Drop by a slice of that triple-chocolate cake. Their heart (and yours) will be the better for it, in every way.