You may have pictured it at some point, how you would look or what you would be doing in your twilight years. Rocking in a chair (will these still be around?), on a porch, daydreaming about past memories. Maybe you picture yourself surrounded by people – kids, grandkids, partners, friends, neighbors. Or maybe you see yourself alone. Well, whichever one of these scenarios comes true, alone or connected, could very well determine how much of that reminiscing (and rocking) you get to do.
When it comes to living longer, many people think in terms of health, nutrition and fitness. And that’s where a lot of the research has focused. Until recently. It turns out that social connection is a greater predictor of longevity than anything else – even smoking status, weight, nutrition and fitness! That’s why I’m calling it the other Vitamin C – Connection.
There are several hypotheses about why being socially connected could lead to a longer life. Here are some of them:
- When you have people who care around, they’re more likely to take you to (or urge you to go to) seek medical care when something’s wrong
- Being socially connected lowers blood pressure and inflammation, which may lower risk for heart disease, alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and some types of cancer
- When you have emotional bonds with others, it gives you a purpose, or something to live for
- We were built to be social creatures, and when we use the brain in ways it was intended, it ages better
Even if you don’t have close immediate family when you get older, that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from social connection. In fact, it’s the social connection within your community that makes the biggest difference in aging. That means interacting with people you run into during the day, like store clerks, mail carriers, people out for a walk, as well as people in groups or organizations you might belong to.
If getting elderly is a long way off for you, remember those in your life who are there now. If grandma or the old lady next door seems to keep you talking forever, try to spare a few minutes. Think of it as offering a healing presence for them, because it just might be!
Connecting with Yourself
I don’t want to leave this subject without speaking a little to connecting with yourself. While there isn’t research that I know of on self-connection and aging, in my experience and learnings, how well you connect with yourself directly affects how well you connect with others.
What does it mean to connect with yourself? To me it means knowing who you are at your core, and living in a way that aligns with that truth. For example, many people experience an inner voice or knowing that you might call your conscience or intuition, even if it’s sometimes faint. I believe that comes from your core self, the self that notices all your other thoughts and actions. If you’ve ever experienced meditation where you disconnect from your thoughts as the go past, and just notice them, it’s that part of you that is witnessing those thoughts.
How do you connect to that part of yourself? I think there are many ways, but it will likely take some practice. Meditating might be one way, or being in nature, or silence, or going for a walk, or creating something like art, writing, or music. When you can slow down the thoughts and outside distractions, you can better connect to your true self.
Once you’re able to find that self, the next step is to start to live more and more aligned with that self. That may mean different things for different people, but in general it means living authentically and consciously. It means you’re aware of the reasons why you do the things you do, and you can start to have your outer actions match more with that inner knowing.
When you’re living in this more connected state within yourself, that will start to show through in your relationships with others. You might find they begin to trust and open more to their true self around you, and therefore you both make a deep and genuine connection, not a shallow one that may not bring the meaning or benefits that a deeper one would.
I hope you can see why I call Connection the other Vitamin C. Vitamin comes from vital, or necessary to our survival. And connection is vital to our health, life and well-being.
We all need a little help sometimes. If you want guidance and support in connecting with yourself and how you relate to food and your body, schedule a free phone consult with me!