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Connecticut News

The Key To Long Life? UConn Experts Say It's The Ties That Bind

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Two UConn professors have combed through the last 50 years of research on how to live a longer and happier life, and they say they have the answers.

“We all know that we should eat healthy, we should get our sleep, we should get our exercise," said Becky Acabchuk, a post-doctoral research associate who along with UConn Psychology Professor Blair Johnson reviewed over 3,000 articles on health psychology for the study.

"Maybe it’s not quite so common knowledge how much strong quality relationships really make a difference in our health.”

Yes, Acabchuk says relationships are the most important – those deep connections with family, partners, or friends. But they found that people seriously underestimate how important relationships are to our health.

One of Acabchuk’s favorites studies is one from Harvard that went viral thanks to a 2015 TED Talk.

“It’s a longitudinal study that looked at how people aged over time, starting at 50 through age 80. And at age 50, it was the people that had the strongest high-quality close relationships at age 50 [that] was the strongest predictor of health at age 80.”

The study showed relationships were the strongest predictor of happiness, longevity, and physical health down the line, not cholesterol or genetics.

Johnson and Acabchuk found that after relationships, the most important thing is to develop tools to manage stress.

“We kind of have a lot of chronic stress that builds up overtime, and it’s this chronic, persistent nature of the stress that accumulates, affects you both biologically, it affects you emotionally, it affects you behaviorally, and these all interact together to contribute to chronic disease,” said Acabchuk.

Johnson and Acabchuk said it’s crucial to develop coping strategies to prevent chronic stress, but some stressors are out of our control.

“One of our prime factors in the article is income inequality, which has showed pronounced effects. Essentially people who live in areas with high income inequality are stressed more…and it’s out of their control,” said Johnson.

Income inequality, unemployment, and discrimination are all stressors that can cause premature aging and increase the risk of disease.

They’ve found though that close bonds with family and friends still have the power to help people overcome the most difficult stressors.

“So there’s an example of a study that showed, knowing that trauma during childhood can contribute to chronic disease later in life, one of the most protective factors against that link is having a strong maternal bond,” said Acabchuk.

Their work was published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.