If you are exercising and eating well in order to live a longer life, you might want to swap out the time you spend on at least one workout to make time for social connection.

In the largest study of its kind, lead researcher Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Professor of Psychology at Brigham Young University, Utah compiled data from two meta-analysis. One involved 148 different studies and 300,000 people from 1980 to 2014. And the second involved 70 studies and nearly 3.4 million people globally. Aka, these are big studies over a long period of time with a lot of people covering a lot of geography.

One study demonstrated that increased social connection reduces the chance of early death by nearly 50%. Which fundamentally means that if you want to live longer, spending time with other people is literally a more effective use of your time than invest the same amount of time in: exercising, managing your body weight or focusing on healthy food.

The second study showed that (real or perceived) social isolation, loneliness or living alone (three separate factors) are greater risk factors than our already well-accepted and well accepted leading mortality risks:

  • Not exercising
  • Not eating well
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Drinking in excess

“It’s comparable to the risk of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day,” Holt-Lunstad said in an interview. “It exceeds the risk of alcohol consumption, it exceeds the risk of physical inactivity, obesity, and it exceeds the risk of air pollution.”

So while we have been busy focusing on the gym, a healthy body weight, cutting down on unhealthy treats in order to live long and prosper, it turns out that the largest two single mortality factors are volume and quality of social interactions.

Now what?

  • Reduce your screen time and increase your quality time. Talk to friends deeply and about meaningful things, not just the weather and what you did today.
  • Try to talk to bank tellers, say hello to the UPS delivery person, shop in local stores rather than online
  • Spend more face to face time with family members
  • Decrease independence as a value, and focus on interdependence. Cook with friends, go for a walk with someone else rather than going to the gym by yourself, travel with friends or other families, help a friend or neighbor with day to day tasks…
  • Get out and live active lives. Quit the gym and enjoy your life! Travel, go to the beach, gather up the kids and go to the amusement park. Being social is rarely about being sedentary, so focusing on social interactions will almost necessarily result in healthy activity levels in your life, particularly if there are children involved.
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