The Secret to Long Life: Human Interaction
OpinionThe Bottom Line

The Secret to Long Life: Human Interaction

Get out and spend time with at least three people every day.

The other day I got on the Internet to watch TED Talks. There are thousands of outstanding talks, and I encourage you to listen to a few of them. You will be impressed and learn a lot.

On TED Talks, I found Susan Pinker, who spoke on why certain people live longer. She found that the Italian island of Sardinia proportionally has more than six times as many centenarians as Europe and 10 times as many as North America.

She presented a chart that indicated you will live longer according to the following: Clean air will help, but it has the lowest impact. Next lowest in impact is controlling hypertension, then not being lean or overweight, then exercise, then avoiding a cardiac event.

While all those items can help a person live a little longer, the fifth-highest impact to live longer is to have a flu vaccine. Fourth is to stop serious drinking, and third is to stop smoking. The two biggest impacts are to have close relationships with other people and to have social interaction with at least three of them daily.

You live longer by talking to lots of people face to face every day. You live longer with close personal relationships and face-to-face interactions. Those interactions are more important than exercising, eating well, and avoiding serious drinking and smoking.

I thought about how I grew up and the social interactions I had over my life. When I was a young child, my parents stayed in touch with almost all my mother’s family. We belonged to a Cousins Club that met several times a year. I had many friends on the block I lived on, and we played games together.

Over the years, my mother stayed in touch with family and kept me informed. When she was gone, my sister did that. My wife did that for her family and for our friends in Atlanta. And now my daughter is doing that using Facebook and the Internet.

The women in my life stay in touch better than the men, and I am sure they will live longer because of it. This is one reason why women live longer than men.

Cartoon by Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

After our first year in Atlanta, we joined a synagogue, not just to stay in touch Jewishly, but also for social interaction. Our friends grew out of that synagogue. In business, I found that relationships not only mattered, but also were critical to my success. It wasn’t phone calls or emails, though important, but face-to-face discussions.

I went to conferences not only to get smart, but also to meet people. People thought I was smarter when they heard my voice and saw my face instead of just reading my words. I could react to their concerns and their problems face to face better than any other way.

Today, friends we have known for years meet monthly with Rabbi Michael Berger to hear him lecture on the Torah, and we attend empty-nester dinners. Many attendees live alone and come to have the social interaction they need.

We go for the same reason because our children have left to build their own families. Of course, we stay in touch with all of them and with our grandchildren. We need that interaction so much that we travel often to be with them.

Connection gives meaning to our lives. We need social connection, not social isolation. I joined the Hebrew Order of David for social interaction with men, and I play Texas hold’em poker for enjoyment and social interaction. I didn’t realize that this could extend my life.

Community is critical. All the Jewish holidays, as well as Shabbos, bring the community together. Holidays are for family and friends.

Sukkot, the holiday that just occurred, is about the ingathering of people and celebrating together in a sukkah. A Passover seder is about the same ingathering.

Loneliness will kill you. If you are depressed, the simple answer is to do something for someone else. Ask yourself how many people you will talk to face to face today.

Being alone is not about being bored; it’s about having contact with people. And the evidence is that social interaction will extend your life. Talk face to face with at least three people today, and you just might live longer.

The bottom line: Building your village is a matter of life and death.

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