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What is an interpersonal relationship? No, it’s not a battleship from Rogue One. In today’s mire of social media’s instanta-snap-whack-a-friend, young millennials have not grown up with what we consider a “traditional” friendship. The human being has an intrinsic need for social relationships. That’s the way we are wired, our DNA. And when our DNA is messed with, the whole bean begins to break down.

In the beginning, God made everything good, except for one thing. Man, that is man without a partner. In this lesson, we will learn how interpersonal relationships can affect our health and increase our livelihood. Think about it...your friendships can impact how long you live!

Genesis 2:18 says, “And the Lord God said, sit is not good that man should be alone.” God created a helper, in the form of Eve. God’s design was that couples would help each other in life. Without that “help” we are immune to the attacks of sin that has weakened man’s relationships on this earth.

Social Connection: are you socially connected? CREATION Health by Florida Hospital defines social connectedness as “interpersonal relationships [that] include good communication, servanthood, sharing, touch, encouragement and trust. They create an environment of hope, closeness, trust and belonging.” How has social media affected your “social connection?” Think about your relationships with your friends. Are they truly fulfilling according to social connectedness?

In his book, Love and Survival, The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy, renowned medical researcher, Dr. Dean Ornish found in his work in reversing heart disease that, “no other factor in medicine—not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery—that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness, and the premature death from all causes.” He found that social connectedness was the strongest medicine of all in helping patients reverse heart disease!

25% of Americans say they have no one to confide in. 29 million people live alone. Loneliness is fast becoming a major disease with severe health and wellness impacts that even include premature death. I guess I contribute to these statistics. But I don’t have to be a statistic and neither do you!

There is a 3-5 times greater risk for heart disease with loneliness. Loneliness and isolation affect health negatively. It increases premature death by up to 500%. Researchers studying longevity have identified the common characteristics of people who are 100 years old or older. They are:
Socially connected
Healthy diet
They get adequate rest
And they live with purpose

How many of the above apply to your life?

In another study done at UCLA, a group of malignant melanoma cancer patients participated in a 6 week, 90 minute weekly support group; another group did not participate. Sessions included education, stress management techniques, ways of enhancing coping skills, and social support. Six years later, the people in the support group had a 70% reduction in death rate, and almost half as many recurrences of the cancer.

In one definitive study, researchers were able to demonstrate the power of social support independent of other factors. People in Japan have the longest life expectancy of anyone in the world. The “Ni-Hon-San” Study was done in Nippon (Japan), Honolulu, and San Francisco. This very large study included 11,900 Japanese who lived in Nippon. The researchers classified the Japanese-Americans in California according to the degree to which they retained a traditional Japanese culture, in other words one in which they maintained their social networks, family ties, and community. Amazingly, the researchers found that those who retained their culture of support had a prevalence of heart disease as low as those living in Japan.

Connectedness in Children
To summarize this qualitative study and others on resilience, they all highlighted common protective factors across three levels – individual, family and school. Resilient individuals tend to have all of the following which are related to social connection: good social skills and support from mentors or peers, they also have a connection to the family and a caring relationship with a care-giver. Aside from these, resilient individuals have positive self-esteem, a sense of future, clear expectations and achievement in school.

Connectedness in Adolescents
In 1997, a massive study was launched collecting data from 90,000 teens and 18,000 of their parents across the United States. This study provides a suitable capstone to the growing body of research for understanding which factors are most likely to protect youth from harm and help them enjoy abundant life. The one word that encapsulates all this research is “connectedness.” In short, kids who feel connected to family, church, school, and community are far less likely to participate in behaviors that put them at risk.

Connectedness in Adults
One of the most interesting and powerful examples of how loving relationships may affect susceptibility to disease in general is found in a study called the Harvard Mastery of Stress Study. Thirty-five years later, medical records were obtained on these participants and detailed medical and psychological histories were conducted. 91% of the participants who did not perceive themselves to have had a warm relationship with their mothers 35 years earlier, had serious diagnosed diseases in midlife (including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, duodenal ulcer, and alcoholism), compared to only 45% of those who perceived themselves to have had a close relationship with their mothers. Similarly, 82% of participants who had low warmth and closeness scores with their fathers had diagnosed diseases in midlife compared with only 50 percent of those who had high warmth and closeness scores.

Connectedness in Older Adults
The longest continuous study in the world on aging that investigated mental and physical health, suggests that adults ages 70 and older may have greater control over their physical and mental health than previously recognized. Dr. George Vaillant and his colleagues found that the seven protective factors that distinguished the happy-well from the sad-sick are under at least some personal control. We have considerable control over our weight, exercise, education, and our abuse of cigarettes and alcohol. Our coping skills and a warm relationship with our spouse are excellent predictors of aging well, too. A successful old age may not rest so much within our genes as within ourselves. What a refreshing thought… we can positively impact our future by making wise lifestyle choices.

The Power of Touch
Kyrie and Brielle were born 12 weeks early. Kyrie was doing well, slept most of the time and was gaining weight. But Brielle wasn't as healthy. She was gaining weight slowly and had breathing and heart rate troubles that resulted in low oxygen levels in her blood. During an episode when Brielle was at her worst, one of the nurses decided to try something she had heard about at a seminar the previous year. It was a simple procedure. With the parent’s approval, she took Brielle out of her incubator and placed her in the incubator with Kyrie, whom she hadn’t seen since birth. Immediately Brielle calmed down. Her blood oxygen levels improved, and she began sleeping better and gaining weight like her sister. Occasionally, Kyrie would put her arm around her sister while they slept. Brielle fully recovered. This event played a significant role in changing the way premature babies are cared for in hospitals across the country.

Yeah for the nurses out there!!! The next time you feel isolated, reach out and touch someone. It just may save your life! Not only with humans, but with our pet friends too. Contrary to life’s destructive stressors, animals offer unconditional love that soothes and heals the mind and body. This unconditional love is a glimpse of how God loves us. The unconditional love we get from animals is well illustrated by a study that discovered the positive effect a dog can have on lowering blood pressure reactivity -- it had an even greater effect than that of a human friend. Why? The friend was often perceived as judgmental as opposed to the dog.

In one of the most successful programs of its kind, social worker David Lee of Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Ohio introduced small animals—fish, parakeets, and so on—to prisoners as “mascots.” Among the prisoners were murderers, rapists, and others who had committed violent crimes. Allowing the criminals to care for the animals almost completely stopped fighting among prisoners and suicide attempts.

Remember how God created us in the Garden of Eden. Live your life to the fullest, according to God’s blueprint. If we are to be connected to the true Vine, then we shall be connected to one another. Let us live in loving relationships with one another!

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