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Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, taking health-promoting supplements—these are all important factors for maintaining good physical health. But what most of us skip over when trying to make improvements to our physical health is our emotional health. So what is emotional health, and why is it important? Research shows that things like life satisfaction, sense of purpose, and social connection can all have dramatic effects on our physical well-being.
What Is Emotional Health?
Emotional health means maintaining a positive attitude, having high self-esteem, having a sense of purpose, being satisfied with your life, and regularly communicating and connecting with others, among other things.
Emotionally healthy people feel in control of their emotions and behaviors, face challenges without being overwhelmed, and build strong relationships. The better we are at looking after our emotional health, the more successful we will be in taking care of our physical bodies, as well. As such, consider these three benefits of good emotional health.
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1. Higher life satisfaction can keep your bones healthy. A study from 2014 published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine looked at the relationship between life satisfaction and bone mineral density in 2,167 postmenopausal women in Finland. The study found that life satisfaction levels, as well as improvement in life satisfaction, predicted bone loss over the 10-year study.
Even after adjusting for confounding variables like medication use and lifestyle factors, there was a strong association between life satisfaction and bone mineral density scores.
2. Having a sense of purpose in life can help protect your brain. Research shows that having a greater sense of purpose in life has several positive health effects. In fact, a study found that older people with the highest scores measuring purpose in life had 57% the hazard rate of those with the lowest scores. These findings suggest that having a greater feeling of purpose could cut your risk of death almost in half.
Specifically, a sense of purpose has been associated with a reduced risk for several adverse health effects in old age, particularly those related to brain health. Researchers have found, for example, that people with a greater sense of purpose in life have about a 50% less likelihood of brain tissue damage called cerebral infarcts, which can raise your risk for dementia, movement problems, and death in old age.
3. Fostering relationships can help you to live longer. Loneliness can be very detrimental to one’s overall health; feeling socially connected, on the other hand, is not just a marker of good emotional health, but it is also important for good physical health. Signs of social isolation include living alone, having a small social network, and having infrequent social contact.
A recent review of 70 studies found that social isolation and loneliness, whether measured subjectively or objectively, were significantly related to a higher likelihood of mortality. The authors found that reported loneliness increased the likelihood of death by 26 percent, while social isolation increased it by 29 percent, and living alone increased it by 32 percent.
Quick Tips: Improving Your Emotional Health
If you feel that you aren’t fully satisfied with the state of your emotional health, it’s time to do something about it; if you don’t, your physical health could become compromised.
Do you feel aimless and don’t find meaning in your day-to-day life? Do you feel like your social circle is too small? Try branching out with new activities:
- Take classes in art, cooking, woodwork, yoga, tai chi, or creative writing.
- Find a hobby that brings you joy.
- Join an outdoor club that goes hiking regularly.
- Volunteer at a local community organization.
- Reach out to old friends or family who you have lost contact with—a call or an email can go a long way in making you feel connected to the people you care about.
Do whatever you can to find joy, meaning, satisfaction, and social connection in your life. Your body (and your mind) will thank you.
Share Your Experience
How do you maintain good emotional health? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments section below.
Originally published in May 2015 and updated.