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What Is Social Fitness and Why Is It So Important? (Part 1 - No leg-warmers required)

August 14, 2023
5 min read
Kat Ridgway-Taylor

How’s your Social Fitness level looking? 🤷🏽‍♀️

Full disclosure: Ahead of researching and writing this article I had never come across the term ‘Social Fitness’ but the concept is intriguing! As an introvert, the idea that I have to intentionally exercise and strengthen my social skills is pretty scary but, having reviewed the various studies that reveal why this is SO important I may just have to face my fear 😬.

If you have ever paused to indulge in some small talk about the weather with someone you don’t know well - or even a stranger - it is easy to take such seemingly minor interactions for granted. However, a range of landmark studies have unlocked the hidden value of these connections. 

Just how important these connections are might surprise you. They might even change your life. 

What is Social Fitness?! 

We’re all familiar with the mantras around healthy eating and physical fitness,  right? Advertisements for wall pilates fitness apps and paleo diets fill our social media feeds as a constant reminder. But what is Social Fitness? 

A growing body of research is indicating that our social interactions and our relationships play a huge role in both our emotional and physical fitness. 

One study1 even revealed that the quality of our relationships is a bigger indicator of life expectancy than obesity and physical activity and is on par with smoking and alcohol intake. 

Wait - what?!

“The size of these effects really can’t be overstated, they’re enormous,”  

Tegan Cruwys, an associate professor and clinical psychologist - Australian National University.

Yes, you read it right - our social fitness can even have an impact on our life expectancy. Furthermore, other studies have demonstrated that strong romantic relationships result in better mental health2 and that a feeling of connection with others decreases symptoms of depression3 and boosts our overall mental well-being.

OK, wow! How do I achieve Social Fitness?

Firstly, it’s important to say that, just like physical fitness, Social Fitness takes work to attain. And not just at the outset. It’s an ongoing process that needs to be maintained. Our relationships need to be nurtured to keep them on track. Anyone who has successfully exited the ‘Honeymoon Phase’ of a close personal relationship can relate to the need to put some legwork in to better understand and appreciate the new shape that their partnership has taken on. 

“What we found was that perfectly good relationships will often wither away from neglect and that the people who were best at having vibrant social networks were the people who took care of them, the people who were actively maintaining their connections with other people.

That’s why we coined the term ‘social fitness’, to be deliberately analogous with physical fitness.”

Robert Waldinger, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, runs the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a decades-long study on health and wellbeing.

What role do casual social interactions play in this concept?

These significant relationships and close friendships clearly play an important role in our overall well-being. But what about the smaller interactions that we touched upon earlier? Do these minor and often temporary connections help? 

Yes indeed! Whilst longer-term, established relationships help us to feel safe and secure, these smaller interactions can bring us a different type of satisfaction. 

Further research has shown that a person who chats with the barista making their coffee rather than taking the ‘grab coffee - get out ASAP’ approach, is typically happier. 

“They’re a source of spontaneity and novelty that we don’t get in the same way from our close relationships,” Dr Gillian Sandstrom, senior lecturer in the psychology of kindness at the University of Sussex.

In fact, group-based social interactions are even more important to our cognitive health than one-to-one relationships!4

Multiple research papers have also suggested that joining a community group or regular class can have a hugely positive effect on our mental health and, in turn, our overall wellbeing and longevity. 

Blue Zone Living and Social Fitness 

Dan Buettner, Blue Zones founder, is a National Geographic Fellow and multiple New York Times bestselling author. Dan discovered five places in the world ­– dubbed blue zones – where people live the longest and are healthiest: 

🔵 Okinawa, Japan; 

🔵 Sardinia, Italy; 

🔵 Nicoya, Costa Rica; 

🔵 Ikaria, Greece (where I sit currently writing this Blog!)

🔵 Loma Linda, California.

The history and evidentiary findings about these special places truly deserve their very own Blog (watch this space!) but why do I mention these zones in the context of Social Fitness? 

All of these Blue Zone locations have been found to share 9 characteristics5: The Power 9.

Three of these nine belong under the heading of ‘Connection’: ‘Belong’; ‘Loved Ones First’; and ‘Right Tribe’.

Simply put, the population of these zones are living healthier lives that are longer, and this is in part due to their attitude, outlook and behaviour when it comes to these three elements of human connection:

  • They typically belong to a faith-based community of any denomination (this ‘coming together’ doesn’t have to be faith-based to have similar benefits of course);
  • Prioritising keeping their family together across generations, actively maintaining close relationships, and placing significant value on spending quality time with their children;
  • Joining (or being born into) a real-life social network that nurtures emotional well-being and supports healthy behaviours. 

The Next Steps 

The feeling of connection to other people - be it long-term or fleeting - is a key ingredient that makes social connection so good for our emotional well-being and even our physical health. But how do we know if we are good at it and how do we get better at it if we are not? 

Coming up in Part 2… 

✅ Take the Social Fitness test! 

✅ How to achieve, improve and maintain your Social Fitness in your everyday life.

✅ How the Boundless Life is designed to help you achieve these goals. 


1 - Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review - PMC 

2 - Romantic relationships and mental health - ScienceDirect

3 - The Connection Prescription: Using the Power of Social Interactions and the Deep Desire for Connectedness to Empower Health and Wellness - PMC

4 - “The we's have it”: Evidence for the distinctive benefits of group engagement in enhancing cognitive health in aging - ScienceDirect 

5 - Power 9® - Blue Zones

At Boundless Life we build a collection of thoughtfully designed communities located in beautiful destinations around the world comprised of private homes, co-working spaces, a education system based on experiential learning and locally adapted recreational hubs where like-minded families can develop connections, work, sustainably explore different parts of the world and be immersed in the local cultures.

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