Strong social connections can boost your health

Credit: Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

In a study from the University of Kent and elsewhere, scientists found the time people spent with family over the festive period could have improved their health.

They examined how social bonds with close social circles and extended groups relate to health and psychological well-being.

The team used self-reported data from more than 13,000 people across 122 countries, gathered during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The surveys assessed people’s strength in bonding with close social circles, such as family and friends, as well as with extended groups, such as country, government, and humanity.

The team also measured people’s pandemic-related health behaviors and mental health and well-being.

They found that only bonding with family, rather than other groups, is linked to engaging positively with behavior that can improve health; in this case, examples included washing hands, wearing a mask and social distancing.

For example, 46% of people who had strong family bonds washed hands at least “a lot,” compared to 32% who were not strongly bonded with their family.

Moreover, 54% of people not bonded with their family reported they never wore a mask. Bonded people were vastly over-represented among those who engaged in health behaviors.

Despite people with strong family bonds constituting only 27% of the entire sample, they constituted 73% of those who engaged in social distancing, 35% of those who washed hands, and 36% of those who wore a mask “a lot” or more.

The team also found that having strong bonds with both close social circles and extended groups is linked to better mental health and well-being.

Importantly, the greater number of groups people had strong bonds with, the higher their engagement in health behaviors and the better their reported psychological well-being was, with less anxiety and depression.

The research recommends that public health messaging focus on smaller networks as well as multiple groups, particularly in times of crisis when individuals should be encouraged to share their positive health behaviors with their close social circles.

It is also suggested that healthcare systems can reduce the reliance on pharmaceutical treatments by using social prescribing to support individuals who do not have these bonds in their life.

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The study was conducted by Dr. Martha Newson et al and published in Science Advances.

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