“Growing Young” was supposed to be out today, all crispy and new, on the shelves of bookstores all over Canada and US. It is not. Random House decided to postpone the publication, as it did with many other titles. When I woke up today, I felt sad and a bit angry (at the virus). I’ve awaited May 5th, 2020, for many months — dreaming, stressing, anticipating. But the third feeling that came to me was that of hope. In a way, once we start seeing the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, “Growing Young” might offer readers an additional reassuring message -- that something good can come out of our common covid misery. In a way, in June the time might be even better to review how we approach our health, whether we might be putting too much effort into things that do not work well — miracle foods, miracle diets, fancy fitness trackers -- forgoing things that are truly important: friendship, meaning in life, empathy.
I believe that we are ready for a reassessment. After months of socially isolating ourselves and worrying about health, if we now rediscover and rethink how we engage in friendship, community and kindness, it can help us live healthier and longer in the post-covid future. Let’s admit it — before the coronavirus stroke we were not exactly the most gregarious, socially connected, kind and community involved people (I’m talking about Canadians, Brits and Americans, but maybe your nation fits here too). As many as a quarter of Americans didn’t have even a single friend in whom they could confide. One in five Canadians claimed to be lonely. In the UK, 84 percent of people didn’t participate in local events. That’s not only sad, it’s also really bad for our health and longevity. Consider the numbers: studies show that building a strong support network of family and friends lowers mortality risk by about 45 per cent. Exercise, on the other hand, can lower that risk by 23 to 33 per cent. Eating six servings of fruit and veg per day can cut the danger of dying early by 26 per cent, while following the Mediterranean diet by 21 per cent. For volunteering, it's 22 to 44 per cent. Even our immune system profits when we are socially involved — in one study, for instance, socially isolated people had a 45 percent higher risk of developing a cold than did more gregarious people, even though everyone was exposed to the exactly same dose of the virus. Now we feel the lack of our social networks more painfully than ever before, and many of us are reconnecting with friends and family. Others meet their neighbours for the very first time, or feel new closeness to their community, as they cheer together for the doctors and nurses, or sing on the balconies. We have a unique chance now. If, after the outbreak is over, we regain our focus on family, friendship and community, on kindness and meaning, we can re-write our future health for the better. Once we survive this, we may emerge with stronger immune systems, stronger arteries, less diabetes — better prepared against the next pandemic or any other challenge that life throws at us.
"Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100" will be published on June 16th.