Why a Guys' Ski Weekend Could Be Good for Your Husband's Health

commentary

Feb 16, 2024

The town ski lift carries a skier and a snowboarder up to the slopes from downtown Park City, Utah, January 23, 2002, photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

The town ski lift carries a skier and a snowboarder up to the slopes from downtown Park City, Utah, January 23, 2002

Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

This commentary originally appeared on Salt Lake Tribune on February 15, 2024.

As a clinical psychologist who has spent my career investigating how social connections can improve health, I can't help but feel grateful for my husband's upcoming “guys'” ski weekend.

While my friend, whose husband is also going, bemoans the trip, calling it the “frat boy” trip, I see it as a blessing. And no, it's not because I relish the time away from my husband. Rather, I am all too familiar with the research demonstrating that men live on average roughly six years less than women and have a 38% increased risk of mortality compared to women. This disparity has been attributed, at least in part, to men's tendency to have fewer and less diverse social relationships than women.

Sociologists and psychologists have identified many reasons why men struggle in the friendship department, including societally proscribed beliefs about machismo, a tendency to value independence and competition over affiliation, and a lack of opportunities to form close bonds with other men. But the evidence is clear: A lack of social connections is a major contributor to disease risk and mortality, so much so that the Surgeon General issued a report naming social isolation as a health epidemic.

Socially connected people are 50% less likely to die as compared to people lacking relationships.

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To put this into context, social disconnection increases the risk for chronic illness at a level that is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day or having an alcohol use disorder. On the flip side, socially connected people are 50% less likely to die as compared to people lacking relationships.

So, while my friend may not understand why I genuinely feel like these trips are a blessing, I know that they are an opportunity for my husband and his friends to strengthen their social connections and improve their health, and, yes, probably drink too much.

It's time to break down the societal barriers that prevent men from forming close bonds with other men and start valuing the power of social connections for their health and well-being. It's also time to recognize the importance of social connections for all people, regardless of sex or gender, and across age groups, as unfortunately the social isolation epidemic hurts everyone.

It may seem paradoxical that I consider a “guys' ski weekend” as a health-promoting activity, knowing that some level of drinking and debauchery undoubtedly will be involved, but I celebrate the opportunity for these men to nourish their friendships which are themselves life-sustaining. And since this trip will likely blow Dry January out of the water, maybe I can convince them to try “Alcohol-free February?” After all, a key to a long and fulfilling life is a balance of healthy relationships and practicing healthy behaviors.


Wendy Troxel is a senior behavioral and social scientist at RAND. She and her husband live in Park City.

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