Feeling Good about Memorial Day?

memorial_dayWe’d like to start this post by wishing all of our US readers a wonderful Memorial Day. And for those elsewhere, Happy Monday!

For some of us, Memorial Day signifies a welcome day off from work and the unofficial start of summer. For others, the day is all about trips to memorials or cemeteries with family. And for a few it may be a day in private introspection and remembrance.

Memorial Day aloneIf you’re one of the latter, or tend to keep to yourself on this day, you might want to re-consider this year.  According to research, getting together with friends and family for a grill out or participating in a parade can have positive health benefits.

Holidays offer the opportunity to gather with others to laugh and bond. Social activities have been shown to reduce stress, and satisfying social relationships have been shown to result in fewer health problems and longer, happier lives. In contrast, an isolated, less social life has been linked to depression and cognitive decline, according to reports in the Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

One study of almost 5,000 adults in Alameda County, Calif. showed that individuals who maintained strong social connections live longer than those who lived more isolated lives. Subjects were rated using a social network index, which translated their answers into a number. A high number indicated a strong amount of social contacts while a low number represented social isolation.

memorial-day-partyOver the following nine years, researchers tracked the subjects’ health. They found that people who placed lower on the social network showed an increased risk of death, implicating social isolation as a major risk factor for poor health.

So why are social connections so healthy? It appears that both biological and behavioral factors are at play. Some research points to stress reduction when we’re happily supported and surrounded by a social circle. Conversely stress, wreaks havoc on our immune system which in turn negatively affect coronary arteries and heart health.

Of course, holidays such as Memorial Day, can also bring out the worst in us.  Excessive drinking, eating and sun-tanning are not good for our health. And sadly, bingeing on beer with a buddy or piling your plate with potato salad in the company of others doesn’t make it any healthier!

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