Does your family sit around the dinner table together only on weekends because they are all too busy the rest of the time? It’s worth considering eating together at other times as well.
Joint lunches or dinners, even if the kids vie for the schnitzel and the chips, help reduce stress and improves health, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Sharing meals with others – including coworkers, friends and neighbors – is a great way to reduce stress, boost self-esteem and improve social connection, particularly for kids, said Dr. Erin Michos, AHA volunteer, associate director of preventive cardiology at the world-renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and a co-author of the AHA’s statement on Psychological Health, Well-being, and the Mind-Heart-Body Connection. “Chronic, constant stress can also increase your lifetime risk of heart disease and stroke, so it is important for people to find ways to reduce and manage stress as much as possible, as soon as possible.”
What did the survey show?
Of the 1,000 American adults nationwide surveyed last month for the AHA’s Association's Healthy for Good movement by Wakefield Research, nearly all parents report lower levels of stress among their family when they regularly connect over a meal, and 84% said they wished they could share a meal more often with loved ones.
Fully 91% of parents notice their family is less stressed when they share family meals together. Overall, respondents reported eating alone about half of the time.
Chronic, constant stress can increase the lifetime risk of heart disease and stroke, but the AHA survey suggests that regular mealtime with others could be a simple solution to help manage stress.
The survey found that 67% of people of those who participated said that sharing a meal reminds them of the importance of connecting with other people, and 54% asserted that it reminds them to slow down and take a break.
Almost 60% said they were more likely to make more healthful food choices when eating with other people but that they have difficulty aligning schedules with their friends or family to do so.
“We know it’s not always as easy as it sounds to get people together at mealtime. Like other healthful habits, give yourself permission to start small and build from there,” Michos said. “Set a goal to gather friends, family, or coworkers for one more meal together each week. If you can’t get together in person, at least think about how you can share a meal together over the phone or a computer.”
The AHA offers free recipes, conversation starters and more at heart.org/together.