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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Your cells love a good conversation

Saturday, October 14, 2017
Sometimes it’s nice to simply take some time alone with your thoughts, to enjoy some refreshing solitude. Then you’re ready to head back out into the world, to reconnect with people. As well as time alone, it seems like our cells get healthier with people contact, and decline when we become too isolated from our community.

One of the earlier studies about the impact of connection on health was an investigation of a particularly cohesive immigrant community in the USA. Now known as the Roseto study, it was triggered when a physician noticed the members of a nearby close-knit immigrant community, Roseto, were less susceptible to chronic disease than other local communities despite being smokers and indulging in unhealthy food. Researchers concluded their community connections boosted their health more than smoking and what they ate undermined it.

This was about 50 years ago; and although in some respects we’re more closely connected (through social media), it seems easier than ever to isolate yourself from the people you live amongst. Perhaps you live alone, have retired or don’t work, or you’ve moved to a new area where you don’t yet know anyone.  Paradoxically, it can be easier to isolate yourself in the more densely populated areas, and much harder to live as a hermit further away from the towns. For example, if you live in a rural corner of the valley you’ll most likely know who your neighbours are; in a large block of apartments, though, it’s all too easy to remain a stranger to those living close by.

Without regular in-person people contact you can become vulnerable to mental health problems like depression; a mental health disorder which, cruelly, makes it even harder to re-connect and creates its own form of punishing solitary confinement. It turns out that our cells love a good conversation, with another person, face to face.  Somehow, just having a ‘how’s the weather’ chat actually boosts your health. 

There’s a limit to this, of course, and it’s true that contact with other people can bring tension. When that happens it’s time to take time out, enjoy some solitude and recharge your enthusiasm for people contact. Once you’ve had a little time alone the best thing you can do for your health is get back out there and talking with people, in person. “People who need people” (to cite a popular song) really do remain healthier, both mentally as well as physically.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Being connected to your community', here


Image credit: Jessica Gale via MorgueFile



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