April 30, 2004 -- Keeping a busy social calendar may help you stay not only busy -- but happy and healthy as well. A new study shows that social connections are as important to mental and physical health as other healthy behaviors, such as quitting smoking or exercising regularly.
Researchers found people who volunteer, go to church, or belong to a club are more likely to report better overall health than people who don't engage in regular social activities.
"Complete health may be achieved through ways other than, or in addition to, those focusing on individuals' patterns of exercise, eating, and smoking," says Joseph G. Grzywacz, PhD, of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, in a news release. "Social behaviors have been largely overlooked in health promotion practice, yet they may hold significant promise for enhancing individual and population health."
Social Activities Foster Good Health
In the study, published in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior, researchers analyzed responses from more than 3,000 adults who participated in the National Survey of Midlife Development in 1995. The survey asked about their physical health, activities, and their emotional and mental health.
In their analysis, researchers defined "complete health" not as merely the absence of physical or mental disease but as enjoying a high level of physical and mental well-being.
About 19% of the participants were completely healthy and a similar number reported complete ill health.
The study showed, as expected, that behaviors such as quitting smoking and exercising regularly were frequently associated with complete health.
But they say the more interesting finding was that adopting healthy behaviors often wasn't enough to produce overall physical and mental health. Some people in the intermediate range exercised regularly but were also mentally unhealthy.
In addition, the prevalence of ill health was highest among those who rarely or never attended church and lowest among those that attended church regularly. Members of civic groups or those who volunteered regularly were also more likely to be completely healthy and less likely to report complete ill health than others.
Researchers say the results show that health promotion efforts should also target social behavior modifications as well as personal health choices in fostering better overall mental and physical health.