Take it offline, will ya?
If you want to live long and stay healthy, that is. That is the key finding of “The Village Effect,” an absorbing new book by Canadian psychologist Susan Pinker that investigates why some people live longer than others.
More than diet, body mass index, smoking or alcohol consumption, your social life is the most accurate predictor of how long you will live, according to a wide array of studies presented in the book.
People who have lots of intimate, face-to-face interactions with friends and relatives heal faster, experience less memory loss with age and live longer than people who don’t.
This is an important finding because as a society, we are moving in the opposite direction.
“In a short evolutionary time we have changed from group-living primates skilled at reading each other’s every gesture and intention, to a solitary species, each one of us preoccupied with our own screen,” Pinker writes.
Part of the problem is that the masters of our virtual world have co-opted language in a way that rivals doublethink in George Orwell’s “1984.”
“Social network” means a group of people you rarely, if ever, encounter face to face. “Friend” can be someone you’ve never met in your life. A “live chat” is people miles apart typing at one another.
Even the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is complicit. In compiling its American Time Use Survey, a visit to a farmers market is conflated with perusing Craigslist in the category of “shopping,” while sitting alone in a room playing “World of Warcraft” and a weekly card game with friends are lumped together under “leisure.”
Pinker’s book takes its name from a cluster of tiny villages on the island of Sardinia in Italy that have a far greater number of residents over the age of 100 than other places. The villages are also the only place on Earth that has no lifespan gap between men and women.
Besides a healthy Mediterranean diet and the physical exertion that comes with living in a non-car-centric society, the village centenarians enjoy a lot of face-to-face contact with friends. They also overwhelmingly live at home, often with younger family members.
The reason the men in the village live as long as the women, Pinker concludes, is they value and pursue the same kinds of deep, intimate bonds with others that women excel at.
There is no reversing the great rural-to-metro migration patterns, of course, but Pinker argues you can create a village of close friends wherever you live.
But you can’t do it from your phone or laptop.
One of the studies in her book showed women with breast cancer who had lots of face-to-face contact with friends were four times more likely to survive than women who did not. Online support groups did not provide the same protection.
MRIs show more tissue repair after injury in patients who have a lot of physical contact with others.
With the holiday season upon us, instead of trying to reduce stress and avoid germs by dodging invitations to all those parties and cookie exchanges, you might be doing your health a bigger favor by attending as many as possible.
So reach out and touch someone — with your hands, not your phone.