When we think about health, we usually think about diet and exercise. We think about the things we are doing for our physical body to promote wellness. But what about the things we can’t see?
Relationships are a big one. And we now know that loneliness and social isolation are as dangerous for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! That’s an incredible comparison; one that hopefully puts into perspective how vital healthy relationships and human connection are to our wellbeing and longevity.
Today on The Doctor’s Farmacy, I talk with Dr. Vivek Murthy about nurturing greater connection and what it means for our health.
Dr. Murthy served as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States between 2014-2017. As the Vice Admiral of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, he commanded a uniformed service of 6,600 public health officers globally. During his tenure, Dr. Murthy launched the TurnTheTide campaign, catalyzing a movement among health professionals to address the nation’s opioid crisis. He also issued the first Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, calling for expanded access to prevention and treatment and for recognizing addiction as a chronic illness, not a character flaw.
In 2017, Dr. Murthy focused his attention on chronic stress and loneliness as prevalent problems that have profound implications for health, productivity, and happiness. His book Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World was just published on April 28th.
Some of us might wonder how we break out of a rut of loneliness—as busy adults this can sometimes feel especially difficult. Dr. Murthy walks us through some really simple ways to get more connected. Service is one way, which actually stimulates the reward center of the brain and promotes feel-good chemicals. That means devoting some time to helping others in one way or another is actually beneficial to our own personal wellness goals.
Another step we can take is committing just ten to fifteen minutes a day to talking to someone we love, which is a powerful way to keep ourselves happy and connected during this time of coronavirus quarantine. Pick up the phone, schedule a video call, or sit down with someone in your family and have a real conversation (without the distraction of screens) about what’s going on with you. Chances are if you open up, they will too, and you’ll both be healthier for it.
Instead of thinking of just the right inputs for health, I invite you to think about what you can give back and how you can reach out to others.
I hope you’ll tune in to this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy to think more deeply about your relationships and how to prevent loneliness, even if you’re currently alone at home.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD