Dinner therapy: Key to a stress-free home may be regular family meals

DALLAS — Could the secret to easing stress be as simple as having dinner as a family? Researchers with the American Heart Association have found that 91 percent of parents notice their families are less stressed when they share meals together.

In a poll of 1,000 American adults, conducted for the AHA’s Healthy for Good™ movement by Wakefield Research, 84 percent wish they could share a meal with loved ones more often. However, the average adult eats alone roughly half of the time.

Two in three (65%) say they’re at least somewhat stressed and 27 percent are very or extremely stressed. Researchers say chronic and continuous stress increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

“Sharing meals with others is a great way to reduces stress, boost self-esteem and improve social connection, particularly for kids,” says Erin Michos, M.D, M.H.S, an American Heart Association volunteer, associate director of preventive cardiology at Johns Hopkins, and a co-author of the American Heart Association’s statement on Psychological Health, Well-being, and the Mind-Heart-Body Connection, in a media release.

“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.”

Family meals leads to eating healthier?

The survey also found that many people believe sharing a meal has additional health benefits. Two in three say dining with others reminds them of the importance of connecting with friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. More than half (54%) say sharing a meal reminds them to slow down and take a break.

Nearly six in 10 (59%) add that they make healthier food choices when they eat with other people. However, many Americans find it hard to line their schedules up with their loved ones.

“We know it’s not always as easy as it sounds to get people together at mealtime. Like other healthy habits, give yourself permission to start small and build from there,” Michos says. “Set a goal to gather friends, family or coworkers for one more meal together each week. If you can’t get together in person, think about how you can share a meal together over the phone or a computer.”

The American Heart Association’s survey reveals that seven in 10 full or part-time workers would feel less stressed if they had more time to take a break and share a meal with their co-workers.

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