The mind-body connection, loneliness and overall health

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Achieving good health isn’t just about managing your blood pressure, controlling your weight or staying away from tobacco – although all of these are important. Good health is actually much more complex and includes social and emotional dimensions in addition to the physical.

For example, where you live matters. The safety of your neighborhood, the quality of your schools, your access to transportation and other “social determinants” can all affect your health.

Likewise, personal and community connections and social support also matter, because how you feel physically is very much affected by how you feel socially and emotionally. In fact, Cigna recently conducted an eye-opening national survey that shows loneliness is at epidemic levels in the U.S. and could be contributing to poor health.

According to Cigna’s survey of more than 20,000 adults ages 18 and older:

  • Nearly half of Americans sometimes or always feel alone or left out
  • Two in five sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful and that they are isolated from others
  • One in four say they rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them
  • One in five report that they rarely or never feel close to people or feel like there are people they can talk to
  • Young adults, Generation Z (ages 18-22), appear to be the loneliest

The survey also shows that most Hartford-area residents are considered lonely, as measured by a score of 43 or higher on the UCLA Loneliness Scale, which gauges one’s subjective feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

We need to rethink what “good health” looks like by recognizing the interconnectedness of our social, emotional and physical dimensions. That means an individual’s care must be integrated and coordinated. The whole person must be treated in order to achieve optimal health. For example, if social isolation is making you depressed, and your depression prevents you from adequately managing your diabetes, it’s unlikely you will achieve good health.

At Cigna, we recognize the connection between physical, mental and social health. That mindset guides us as we take a holistic approach to meet the needs of the people and communities we serve. The loneliness survey results reinforce why we believe in the power of integrated health care and why we encourage our employer clients to offer a wide range of integrated health benefits to their employees.

The loneliness survey also shows us that people who have frequent and meaningful in-person interactions have much lower loneliness scores and report better health than those who rarely connect personally with others. Having the right amount of sleep, work, friend and family time, as well as “me time,” is connected to lower loneliness scores. Balance is essential, because people who get too little or too much of these activities have higher loneliness scores.

At the upcoming Better Health Conference in Hartford on June 7, my Cigna colleagues and I will join approximately 500 health care experts to discuss the many dimensions of good health. We will also share best practices and explore new ways to engage individuals and empower them to take control of their health. Central to that is helping each individual understand the mind-body connection, its impact on overall health and the resources that are available to help them live better, healthier lives.

Wendy Sherry is market president for Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company’s commercial health care business in Connecticut.

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