friendshipSo how are you doing so far with your new year’s resolutions? The types of resolutions most individuals make have a strong focus on wellness; e.g., “quit smoking,” “lose 10 pounds,” etc. As many of us are already struggling to keep the half-hearted resolutions we made for 2014, it seems an appropriate time to take a look at what has been found to be most effective in increasing one’s lifespan and overall wellness.

In January, it sometimes seems that everyone in the general public has his or her own W.H.A.M. (Whole Health Action Management) plan! But for individuals with behavioral health problems, a focus on wellness is important twelve months of the year. Research has shown that individuals with serious mental illness, in particular, have average lifespan 20-30 years less than the general population. Such individuals are 3-5 times more prone to develop diabetes and heart or respiratory problems.

Healthy lifestyle changes are particularly critical, therefore, for individuals with mental illness, and recovery programs such as ours emphasize wellness activities with good reason.

When a large-scale analysis of numerous studies of health risk was conducted in 2010, researchers found that the top six ways to reduce mortality and improve health outcomes are:

#6. Lose weight.

#5. Increase physical activity.

#4. Get a flu shot annually.

#3. Avoid excessive drinking.

#2. Stop or reduce smoking.

#1. Have more friends.

Developing a strong social network is the single most effective way to improve your life expectancy – and it’s a lot more painless than cutting calories. Or is it? Magellan Health Services once reviewed assessment of thousands of individuals receiving intensive behavioral healthcare services, and their findings were troubling. 41% of individuals reported that they lived alone and rarely or never had someone to talk with about their problems, other than a professional, or to go out with for a meal or movie. Luckily, peer support programs such as Perry Wellness Center provide a needed focus on improving social supports as well as improving general health.

Whether you are dealing with a mental health issue or just want to live more healthily – and longer, you may want to re-think your new year’s resolutions to include some of the items on our “top six” list. Here’s to a healthy and friend-filled year – and many more!

(We owe much of research analysis above to a recent article by David Covington, a nationally known behavioral healthcare expert who spent many years in the Georgia system. Check out his excellent website here.)

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