When was the last time a doctor wrote you a prescription for love, friendship, or community? Often, invisible factors can often have a greater impact on our health than anything that happens in a doctor’s office.
How? Here are ways all of us can take charge of our heart -- and overall -- health in ways that traditional prescriptions cannot.
Invisible Factors That Impact Heart Health
All of us -- whether we have prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or no diabetes at all! -- need plenty of exercise, a nutritious diet, and sleep to stay healthy. Good medical care is also essential.
But when was the last time you examined your relationship with your significant other, your friends, or family members? When did you last evaluate your life purpose? And all in the name of good health.
Decades of data show that we should. Because that morning exchange with your partner, your child, or your roommate -- not to mention how you treated a colleague at work or how they treated you -- all these interactions affect your wellbeing and your heart health.
And it’s not just relationships with those you know that matter: positive experiences in your neighborhood, continuing your education, or the pursuit of a life-long goal all influence how you’re feeling.
These are all invisible factors that directly impact your health. In all, it’s love, kindness, and connection that are major drivers in human health. And here’s the best part: we can influence these invisible factors with our daily choices.
How Do Relationships Impact Our Health?
There’s ample evidence that warm, caring relationships with ourselves, others, and our community help us live longer and better. Daily doses of love and kindness from supportive relatives, friends, teammates, colleagues, or even pets, can change biology beyond a healthy lifestyle alone.
Cultivating compassionate connections and experiences helps lower the stress hormone cortisol. This reduces inflammation with a cascade of positive health effects. Benefits include:
- boosting the immune system
- lowering blood pressure
- improving depression and anxiety symptoms
- living longer with cancer or heart disease
- helping cuts heal faster
And unlike pills or supplements, you don’t have to worry about overdoing it.
3 Non-Medical Practices to Improve Health
There are numerous low-cost, low-risk, and evidence-based practices that can boost our health beyond medical care alone. Here are three ideas to get you started:
1. Take a Class
An academic class, a painting class, or a yoga class! Learning is one of the most important things we can do for our health.
The data is mind-boggling! Education saves lives. In fact, for every one life saved by biomedicine, education saves eight. Plus, taking a class combines so many of the invisible factors. It builds community and boosts brain functioning, among other benefits.
The key is to find something you enjoy and get more involved. Engage with classmates and involve friends who may be interested.
2. Chat More
Talk with the people you encounter during your day.
Face-to-face conversations build a sense of community. Ask someone who helps you out his or her name. They may be the cashier at a store, the person who hands you your coffee, or someone waiting in line next to you.
Remember every bit of positive connection and kindness counts. It is so easy to disengage and look at our phones instead of each other. You never know who is sitting next to you!
Whether helping out at a food pantry, delivering meals to seniors, cleaning up a parking lot, or planting a community garden, volunteering is as good for the doer as the receiver.
Evidence shows it increases the survival of the volunteer! Plus it helps us unplug, connect, and build community. Interacting with different people expands our social circles and boosts gratitude for what we have.
Bonus points if you do it in nature! Exposure to parks and trees help us fight off infections and cancers, feel less pain, and boost overall mood.