I believe there is a need for each of us to expand the grid on what we believe is needed to achieve optimal health. Traditional healthcare often encourages us to change our diets and increase exercise to achieve optimal health and prevent illness — and while these are important contributors to good health they are often given too much credit for optimal results. Science is proving that it is not just diet, exercise and standard healthy behaviors that make us healthy but in many cases, it is everything else in our lives. Happiness, strong relationships, creativity, spirituality, financial security, and our environment may play a more impactful role in our health than we ever believed. This point is so eloquently delivered in one of my favorite Ted Talk by Lissa Rankin MD. You can watch the TED TALK by Lissa’s TED TALK here. Other resources include her book MIND OVER MEDICINE can be purchased on Amazon.
There is a famous Grant Study done at Harvard University about Happiness and Life. This 75-year longitudinal study (still going on) of 268 physically and mentally healthy male Harvard college sophomores from the classes of 1939–1944. The men were evaluated at least every two years by questionnaires, information from their physicians, and in many cases by personal interviews. Information was gathered about their mental and physical health, career enjoyment, retirement experience, and marital quality. The goal of the study was to identify predictors of healthy aging.
The main conclusion of the study clearly showed that deep connection and warmth in relationships throughout life had the greatest positive impact on life satisfaction. And that life satisfaction and happiness have the greatest impact on our health and longevity than any other independent factor.
How do we take that information above and use it to help us achieve greater health and longevity?
When we connect in a deep and meaningful way, reward chemicals flood the brain. These reward chemicals include natural opiates, endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin. When released, these beautiful chemicals sooth and calm and lead to happiness. It helps us feel warm and wonderful inside.
These chemicals like oxytocin can be thought of as medicine. It is true to say that love and connection are, in fact, a drug. It has incredible benefits in the body. There are no side effects. Oxytocin blocks cortisol (the hormone that stresses us out, makes us angry and upset, and feel panicked). Oxytocin blocks Cortisol. Oxytocin speeds up neuroplasticity. Oxytocin helps the brain make faster connections, stronger connections, learn better, remember better. A healthy loved and balanced brain is ready to grow and learn and remember things. Oxytocin also strengthens the immune system. Keeps us looking and feeling young inside and out.
We are always spending so much time doing things to “make us healthy” stressing about how much food we are eating, scheduling a workout, finding the right foods to eat. The truth is that one of the most important things we can focus on besides food and water is connection. It is essential brain food. It is emotional nutrition.
Challenge yourself to think of food as more than what lies on your plate. The ability to achieve and maintain optimal health comes from many places and many things. Strengthening and making meaningful connections with others may be more beneficial to your health than you realize.
By Susanne Duato