Apr, 2015

The Marlboro Man Myth Will Kill You Just as Fast as Smoking.

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Picture the classic Western frontier.

Man sitting on his horse, venturing out against the Wild, Wild West.

This picture? Some call it the American Dream. Isolated, solitary, you against the world.

As much as that scene may tempt you, we only get away with isolation for a weekend or even a “season” of life.

Research shows that it’s a recipe to shorten your life.

University of Texas researchers have shown that quality relationships decrease your chance of disease. “Social relationships—both quantity and quality—affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk.” 1 2

That mean’s life is way better and you live longer.

But we seldom look at the flip side of relationships. We talk all about what positive, encouraging healthy relationships do you our health but what about toxic relationships?

It likely doesn’t surprise you that in toxic relationships you are opening yourself up to more than just hurt feelings and frustration.

A Northwestern University study 3(that joined forces with Preventative Medicine Departments all over the US) 4showed that high levels of “social strain” dramatically increased your chance of heart disease of all types.

The study showed high levels of “social strain” caused a 12x increase in coronary artery disease and a 10x times increase in stroke.

These risks were independent of education level, marital status, or family income.

So what causes high levels of social strain in relationships? In the research study the participants were asked to rate the following statements.

Do the people who are important to you:

  • Get on your nerves?
  • Ask too much of you?
  • Do not include you?
  • Try to get you to do things you do not want to do?

Each of these questions was ranked from zero to five. If the participant’s score was seven or more, that was identified as a high level of “social strain”. A low level of social strain was a score of four or less.

This was shocking for me because I look at my relationships and think they are fairly healthy, but when I go through the 4 questions and rank them, I can’t say I’m under a score of 4.

But that’s what it takes, a score of under 4 to have low levels of “social strain”.

It’s time we take our relationships seriously and get the toxic people out of our lives. You deserve a long and healthy life and allowing people to take you down is literally killing you.

This doesn’t mean you don’t help people who are hurting but as Dr. Henry Cloud talks about in his “Boundaries” books. We need to move the “joy sucker outers” to the outer circles of influence in your life.

You can take a look at Dr. Cloud’s book on Boundaries here.

Only allow mature, healthy, uplifting people into your inner circles, the area’s of greatest influence.

That will make for some uncomfortable conversations, some unanswered emails and text messages and some different plans for the holidays. But you need to remember your life depends on it, take it seriously.

Don’t be rude, just be certain.

Be firm and committed to doing what it takes to protect your heart.

I’d love to hear your experience of either staying social or re-establishing boundaries in realtionships that are no longer serving you (or even hurting you).

Join the conversation below in the comments.


  1. Social Relationships and Health; A Flashpoint for Health Policy. Debra Umberson, Jennifer Karas Montez, University of Texas at Austin, Department of Sociology, 1 University Station A1700, Austin, TX 78712.
  2. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/the-health-benefits-of-strong-relationships (accessed Feb 13, 2015)
  3. Associations of Stressful Life Events and Social Strain With Incident Cardiovascular Disease in the Women’s Health Initiative. Kiarri N. Kershaw, PhD, MPH; Gretchen A. Brenes, PhD; Luenda E. Charles, PhD, MPH; Mace Coday, PhD; Martha L. Daviglus, MD, PhD; Natalie L. Denburg, PhD; Candyce H. Kroenke, ScD, MPH; Monika M. Safford, MD; Tina Savla, PhD; Hilary A. Tindle, MD, MPH; Lesley F. Tinker, PhD; Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD. Northwestern University, 680 N Lake Shore Drive, Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611.
  4. Department of Preventive Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL (K.N.K., M.L.D., L.V.H.), Department of Psychiatry, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston‐Salem, NC (G.A.B.), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morgantown, WV (L.E.C.), Departments of Preventive Medicine and Psychiatry, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, TN (M.C.), Department of Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL (M.L.D.), Department of Neurology, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Des Moines, IA (N.L.D.), Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, Oakland, CA (C.H.K.), Department of Medicine, University of Alabama Birmingham, Birmingham, AL (M.M.S.), Department of Human Development, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA (T.S.), Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA (H.A.T.), Women’s Health Initiative, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA (L.F.T.)