BY OLIVIA DO
Human beings are social animals that have difficulty living alone. People understand their existence by forming relationships with others who resemble themselves. By connecting with others, you realize who you are.
Sometimes people who have experienced frustrating interpersonal relationships complain that they want to live on an uninhabited island, but it would be almost impossible to survive alone on that isolated island.
Perhaps, one could survive physically by interacting with animals like the boy in The Jungle Book, but it would be very difficult to maintain human relationships as someone who can communicate and interact with others in the human world.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study that reminds us that humans are social animals. In this study, researchers confirmed that social connections and social ties between people affect people’s physical health. For example, if a person is socially isolated, feels lonely, or is not socially integrated, then health is fragile.
Specifically, Elahe Izadi of The Washington Post reported that for socially isolated adolescents, worsening of inflammation matches the risk level of those who do not exercise. For elderly people, there is a greater risk of hypertension because of social isolation than the risk of diabetes.
He also reported that researchers at the University of North Carolina have found that having a large social network for youths and the elderly is just as important as having quality human relationships. In addition, the study has found that the quality of interpersonal relationships is even more important for middle-aged people.
These studies prove that the older you are, the greater your need to meet friends through religious organizations or hobbies, and to talk more with your spouse. Further, participating in community events that attract a large number of people is sure to be a health-promoting activity.
Of course, if you are originally introverted, do not enjoy meeting people, or enjoy being solitary, it may be difficult for you to actively associate with people. This is the same thing as encouraging people who do not want to exercise to exercise as an essential part of maintaining good health.
In addition, in the case of the elderly who may think and judge others based on their long life experience and behaviour, it can be very difficult to get along with other people. These seniors have held some of their views and habits for a very long time, which makes them difficult to change.
Nonetheless, depending on how individuals understand and accept the research result, which is “Social cohesion can be an important factor in improving the physical health of individuals, from teenagers to ninety-year-olds”, the changes may follow.
Unfortunately, even if many people understand the study result, it may be difficult to apply in reality. It may be harder than you think to recommend networking to people who do not have social connections. This is especially so for people with an illness, mental disability, or those who dislike being associated with numerous people.
Especially in the case of the elderly, it may not be easy to identify those who are at risk if you assume they are used to living alone and do not feel lonely. This can be even more difficult if they do not have children, or they are not in contact with them.
If there is a lesson to learn from this study, it is that it is important to learn from family members early on, “building a good social relationship” that will help you live a fuller social life and maintain a healthy lifestyle for a long time. However, many people who live busy lifestyles miss this opportunity for numerous reasons and neglect their relationship with their families.
Therefore, it is good for everyone to spend time with and talk to friends and/or neighbours, keeping in mind the importance of social connectedness. This should not be necessarily with only one person.
Even when you take a walk, it is important to broaden relationships by talking to other people, rather than simply walking past without greeting or saying anything, just looking at the sky or the ground.
People can establish human relationships anywhere they are with people. A deeper and broader conversation with a close friend or spouse is a very good resource to help someone stay healthy.
It is also beneficial to establish a relationship with a new neighbour when someone moves into your area. Of course, it takes time and effort to make a relationship, but if you expand your network, you can not only make your life richer but also stay healthy.
We live in an era when people’s life expectancy is close to100 years. However, we should not ignore this research because it is possible to live even longer. Surrounding yourself with friends and family and expanding your network will give you the opportunity to enjoy a healthy life right through your senior years.
(■ Eun Kyeong “Olivia” Do: Social Worker, Master’s Degree from the Graduate Faculty of Social Work, University of Manitoba, 2017. Thesis: Filial Piety Obligations and the Lived Experience of Korean Female Caregivers of Aging Parents-in-Law in Canada. High5S Counseling Hub with immigrant families and seniors (Phone: 204- 807-0908). Has coordinated a government-sponsored project operated by senior groups since 2014 with the publisher, Won Jae Song of the Diversity Times.)
*This article was originally published in the Korean language for 2017 December issue of the Diversity Times.