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Visit Your Mother, It’s Good for You

September 5, 2014

I remember summer vacations when I was a kid. They seemed to last forever. Then after a few years, that “forever” feeling would disappear—about the 4th of July—and things would start to speed up. The onslaught of back-to-school advertisements didn’t help.

Today I’m in my 50’s, wondering how I got here so fast. Summer is almost gone. I mean summer the season, not the metaphorical “summer of my life.” That disappeared when I realized I was eligible for the senior discount at the coffee shop.

My first inkling that things were traveling at warp speed came at 33 when my sister called and asked if I would give a talk in her university class on the subject of “what it was like to be middle-aged.” My first idea was to walk into the class and promptly forget why I was there. I did give the talk. I brought charts.

With time moving so fast, how does one get everything done—on time? My wife and I have a saying, or maybe it’s a motto, “If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t happen.”

When we look at our to-do lists we see things: mow the lawn, remodel the kitchen, plan retirement, buy a new plunger (it’s a long story). We feel we need to, as a wise man once said, “Git-‘er-done.” So much to do, and so little time.

New scientific research is telling us to add something else to our calendar lists, something that will improve our physical fitness—people.

According to Daniel J. Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, “Scientific studies of longevity, medical and mental health, point to supportive relationships as the most robust predictor of these attributes in our lives.”

Researchers analyzed the results of 148 studies that tracked the social habits and health of over 308,000 people. The data revealed that those with weak social ties were found to be at risk for poor physical health in ways associated with risky behaviors like smoking, alcoholism, and obesity.

People with weak relationships are at equal risk of experiencing health problems as someone who is an alcoholic or who smokes a pack a day! This has altered my fitness routine.

I still exercise and eat my vegetables, but now I know the health benefits of Saturday morning playing in a band at the coffee shop, a trip with my sister (yes, that “middle-aged” sister) and nephew to northern Wisconsin to look for John Dillinger, visiting my college friend Robin in Appleton, my brother’s pizza parties, conversation, eye contact, and, oh yes—visiting my mother.

Write it on your calendar. When it comes to your health, other people matter. But don’t forget the plunger.

Michael Robichaud is an independent Hapacus director, teaching the science of happiness. For upcoming course information, visit Hapacus.com or contact Michael at mhappyr@yahoo.com.

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