An extensive study from Harvard University found a correlation between a happy and a long life, a relevant finding after strong moments of social isolation.
LatinAmerican Post | Luis Ángel Hernández Liborio
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Leer en español: ¿Es la felicidad la clave para la longevidad y la salud?
Older adults were undoubtedly some of those who suffered the most during the pandemic. First because they were the population with the highest risk and highest mortality from the virus, and second because they also had to deal with social distancing, which triggered high levels of depression. This disease is associated with other diseases such as broken heart syndrome and even suicides. The health crisis and confinement put people's mental and physical stability to the test. In this regard, a Harvard University study has investigated for almost 80 years how healthy relationships impact people's happiness and this, in turn, longevity.
The study has spanned eight decades, which makes it an interesting x-ray of human development. Initially, the researchers focused on physical and genetic aspects that impact health and that ultimately allow or prevent a long and healthy life. Over time they have discovered that psychological and social factors are as relevant as genetic ones. That is, the person's environment and their social relationships, if they are healthy, have a direct impact on their quality of life and longevity. It may sound logical, but until now it was a hypothesis that had not been proven with data and in-depth study. "The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health," says Dr. Robert Waldinger, lead psychiatrist on the study.
Has physical health lost relevance for a long life?
One of the most valuable points is that people's physical health is as important as emotional health, a happy life and in a motivating environment help people to prolong their life. However, this should not be understood as a loss of relevance of physical health, in reality, comprehensive health is made up of both sides of the coin. One cannot exist without the other to be considered health, which is why the study is also relevant as a record of the changes in the approach that medicine has had. At the beginning of the study only men were studied, over time (and the discovery of the impact of happiness on health) it has been extended to their wives and children to better understand the role of personal relationships in development and how they help or not to achieve better levels of health and long life.
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Mental health is key
So, if happiness is key to having a better quality of life, healthy relationships and health, what effects does depression have on people? Depression has many causes, one of the most relevant is loneliness. And while it may seem harmless, loneliness aggravates many of the most common mental health problems and certainly has a negative impact on a person's physical health. The US CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) found that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of mental illness such as dementia by up to 50%. On a physical level, the effects of loneliness are associated with premature death, heart problems, as well as medical complications that require hospitalization. In addition, of course, of the most common problems in which older adults who live alone find themselves, such as domestic accidents of lesser or greater severity. The key is then to balance mental health with the same attention and relevance as physical health, with personal relationships being the most relevant to create a pleasant environment. As a last point about loneliness, there is a saying that says "better alone than in bad company" hence the importance of establishing healthy ties with family and friends, with whom you feel safe and happy, problematic relationships can produce the same or worse effect than loneliness.
The hexalog for healthy aging
Psychiatrist George Vaillant, who was part of the study in the 1960s, wrote a hexalogue on the factors that favor healthy aging in a book called "Aging Well." These factors are: being physically active (physical health); controlled consumption of alcohol and tobacco (physical/emotional stability); have mature mechanisms to deal with the ups and downs of life (emotional stability); enjoy a healthy weight and health (physical health); in addition to a stable marriage (emotional stability and personal relationships). Finally he added a sixth: Education. The doctor stated that the better education a person has, the less likely they are to abuse substances such as alcohol and drugs, in addition to establishing better personal and work relationships. He concluded that the more factors a person fulfills, the better the chances of having a healthy, happy and long life, for him the pillar of everything is relationships with others.