Strengthen social connections

You may have heard that people from the Mediterranean region are the healthiest on the planet, with low risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and depression. Good nutrition and physical activity are not the only reasons for these health benefits. A major contributing factor of the Mediterranean Lifestyle includes social connectedness.  

The Mediterranean Diet ranked first place as U.S. News and World Report’s Best Overall Diet of 2019, beating the ketogenic diet (#38) and Whole30 Diet (also #38) by a longshot. Although there’s no official definition of a Mediterranean eating pattern, it’s generally characterized by lots of vegetables and fruit, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, low-fat or fat-free dairy, plant oils, and seafood. Chicken and other meat products (especially red) are included sparingly—just a few times a month. Not sold yet? Many proponents also make room for a daily 5-ounce serving of red wine.

However, the diet isn’t solely responsible for the health benefits researchers have documented over the past few decades. The diet is part of a lifestyle rich in physical activity, restful sleep and relaxation, and social connectedness. Together, these factors support wellness from your gut to your brain, resulting in a longer lifespan, improved cognition, and lower chronic disease risk, just to name a few.

Adopting these lifestyle principles can help improve your health beyond your biometric screening numbers. In fact, an 8.5-year study conducted in the Mediterranean region found that adherence to the lifestyle resulted in a 50% relative risk reduction in depression as compared to study participants with low levels of Mediterranean lifestyle adherence. Another study found that people with higher blood levels of nutrients found in the Mediterranean diet performed better on cognitive tests and had higher functional brain network efficiency (essentially a measure of how many steps it takes to transfer information from one part of your brain to another). A large body of evidence also tells us that socially embedded elders experience a lower risk of high blood pressure and obesity.

Ultimately, remaining connected within your network of friends and family is an important strategy for protecting yourself against future health risks and the consequent burden of chronic disease. As we work through February, try incorporating our 15 tips for staying connected:

  1. Show your support for women’s heart health by wearing red on February 1st.  
  2. Make a list of people you want to keep in touch with. Schedule a day(s) to reach out to them in February.
  3. The Super Bowl is February 3rd! Invite your friends and family to a Super Bowl Party with lightened-up versions of your favorite game-day dishes. Try this delicious (but nutritious) Turkey Chipotle Chili or these spicy Sriracha-Buffalo Cauliflower Bites.   
  4. February 4th is World Cancer Day. Create a customized poster to share on your social media to spread the word.
  5. February is National Canned Food Month. Round up some extra canned food from your pantry, grab a friend, and head to a local food pantry or food bank to donate.
  6. February 6th is National Frozen Yogurt Day! Grab a loved one (or more) and make DIY blended frozen yogurt at home. Try this 5-minute Strawberry Frozen Yogurt or this simple Two Ingredient Frozen Yogurt.
  7. Send a loving text message to your spouse or significant other just because. A simple “hi” and a message that you were thinking about them will suffice.
  8. Finally send that thank you note you’ve been putting off.
  9. Try a different form of group exercise, like yoga, tai chi, or Pilates. You never know who you’ll meet!
  10. Share something that made you laugh. Social relationships that are filled with laughter and fun are particularly good for your psychological and physical well-being.
  11. February 11th is National Shut-In Visitation Day. Visit an older loved one who might not make it out of their home as much as they should.
  12. February 14th is Valentine’s Day! Celebrate by professing your appreciation for your coworker’s work ethic, talent, and what they bring to the table. Invite a group of coworkers or friends out to lunch, but plan in advance since Valentine’s day is the second busiest day of the year for restaurants.
  13. February 16th is National Almond Day. Surprise your coworker with a serving of almonds for a mid-day nutritious snack.
  14. February 17th is National Random Act of Kindness Day. Choose a few random acts from this comprehensive list.
  15. February is National Bake for Family Month, and February 23rd is National Banana Bread Day. Celebrate both by baking this whole grain chocolate chip banana bread with your loved ones.