How Does Social Connectedness Affect Health?
Social connectedness influences our minds, bodies, and behaviors—all of which influence our health and life expectancy. Research shows that social connectedness can lead to longer life, better health, and improved well-being.1-6
Social connectedness is the degree to which people have and perceive a desired number, quality, and diversity of relationships that create a sense of belonging, and being cared for, valued, and supported.
People are by nature social creatures. Social connections are important for our survival.7 Our relationships with family, friends, coworkers, and community members can have a major impact on our health and well-being.
When people are socially connected and have stable and supportive relationships, they are more likely to make healthy choices and to have better mental and physical health outcomes. They are also better able to cope with hard times, stress, anxiety, and depression.
There are many things that create social connectedness. The amount and quality of our relationships matter, as do the various roles they play in our lives.
There are other benefits of social connectedness beyond individual health. Social connectedness can also help create trust and resilience within communities.8
A sense of community belonging and supportive and inclusive connections in our neighborhoods, schools, places of worship, workplaces, and other settings are associated with a variety of positive outcomes.19 Having supportive and inclusive relationships:
- Helps communities thrive and support the overall well-being, health, safety, and resilience of communities.
- May encourage people to give back to their communities, which may further strengthen those connections.20
- The number, variety, and types of relationships a person has.
- Having meaningful and regular social exchanges.
- Sense of support from friends, families, and others in the community.
- Sense of belonging.
- Having close bonds with others.
- Feeling loved, cared for, valued, and appreciated by others.
- Having more than 1 person to turn to for support. This includes emotional support when feeling down, and physical support, like getting a ride to the doctor or grocery store, or getting help with childcare on short notice.
- Access to safe public areas to gather (such as parks and recreation centers).
People with stronger social bonds have a 50% increased likelihood of survival than those who have fewer social connections.
Social connection can help prevent serious illness and outcomes, like:
- Heart disease.
- Depression and anxiety.
Social connection with others can help:
- Improve your ability to recover from stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Promote healthy eating, physical activity, and weight.
- Improve sleep, well-being, and quality of life.
- Reduce your risk of violent and suicidal behaviors.
- Prevent death from chronic diseases.
References: 1-3, 12-18
- Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB. Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS Med. 2010;7(7):e1000316.
- Holt-Lunstad J. Social connection as a public health issue: the evidence and a systemic framework for prioritizing the “social” in social determinants of health. Annu Rev Public Health. 2022;43:193-213.
- House JS, Landis KR, Umberson D. Social relationships and health. Science. 1988;241(4865):540-545.
- Lem K, McGilton KS, Aelick K, et al. Social connection and physical health outcomes among long-term care home residents: a scoping review. BMC Geriatrics. 2021;21:722.
- Martino J, Pegg J, Frates EP. The connection prescription: using the power of social interactions and the deep desire for connectedness to empower health and wellness. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2015;11(6):466-475.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System. The National Academies Press; 2020.
- Holt-Lunstad J, Steptoe A. Social isolation: an underappreciated determinant of physical health. Curr Opin Psychol. 2022;43:232-237.
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Healthy People 2030. Social Determinants of Health: Social and Community Context. US Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed March 21, 2023. https://health.gov/healthypeople/objectives-and-data/browse-objectives/social-and-community-context
- Anderson GO, Thayer C. AARP Foundation. Loneliness and social connections: a national survey of adults 45 and older. AARP Research. 2018. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00246.001
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) Measures Executive Read-Out, prepared by the SDOH Measures Workgroup. 2021. Unpublished report.
- Lee RM, Draper M, Lee S. Social connectedness, dysfunctional interpersonal behaviors, and psychological distress: testing a mediator model. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 2001; 48(3): 310-318.
- Seppala E. Connectedness & health: the science of social connection. The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stanford University. May 8, 2014. Accessed March 21, 2023. http://ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/connectedness-health-the-science-of-social-connection-infographic
- Smith RW, Barnes I, Green J, Reeves GK, Beral V, Floud S. Social isolation and risk of heart disease and stroke: analysis of two large UK prospective studies. Lancet Public Health. 2021;6(4):e232-e239.
- Petrova D, Garcia-Retamero R, Catena A. Lonely hearts don’t get checked: on the role of social support in screening for cardiovascular risk. Preventive Medicine. 2015;81:202-208.
- Lazzari C, Rabottini M. COVID-19, loneliness, social isolation and risk of dementia in older people: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the relevant literature. Int J Psychiatry Clin Pract. 2021;1-12.
- Mann F, Wang J, Pearce E, Ma R, Schlief M, Lloyd-Evans B, Ikhtabi S, Johnson S. Loneliness and the onset of new mental health problems in the general population. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2022;57(11):2161-2178.
- Santini ZI, Jose PE, York Cornwell E, Koyanagi A, Nielsen L, Hinrichsen C, Meilstrup C, Madsen KR, Koushede V. Social disconnectedness, perceived isolation, and symptoms of depression and anxiety among older Americans (NSHAP): a longitudinal mediation analysis. Lancet Public Health. 2020;5(1):e62-e70.
- Brinker J, Cheruvu VK. Social and emotional support as a protective factor against current depression among individuals with adverse childhood experiences. Prev Med Rep. 2016;5:127-133.
- Michalski CA, Diemert LM, Helliwell JF, Goel V, Rosella LC. Relationship between sense of community belonging and self-rated health across life stages. SSM Popul Health. 2020;12:100676.
- My Health My Community. Social connection and health. The University of British Columbia, Fraser Health, and Vancouver Coastal Health. March 2018. Accessed March 21, 2023. https://myhealthmycommunity.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/MHMC_SocialConnections_web.pdf