According to new research publicised recently, a healthy social life may be as good for your long-term health as not smoking.
Research was carried out at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina where data was compared from 148 studies on health outcomes and social relationships from more than 300,000 men and women throughout the developed world. They found that those with poor social connections had on average 50% higher odds of death in the study’s follow-up period (an average of 7.5 years) than people with much stronger social ties.
It’s also bigger than differences in the risk of death associated with many other well-known lifestyle factors, including lack of exercise and obesity.
In one of the most famous experiments on health and social life, Carnegie Mellon University exposed hundreds of healthy volunteers to the common cold virus; then isolated them for several days. The study showed that participants with more social connections and with a wider social network (friends from a variety of social contexts such as work, sports teams and church) were less likely to develop a cold than the more socially isolated study participants.
In essence, the immune systems of people with lots of friends simply worked better, fighting off the cold virus often without symptoms. Studies suggest that a strong social life affects immune function by helping people keep physiological stress under control.
Whilst I agree with these findings, as individuals we are ultimately responsible. There are so many other things we have to take into consideration too. We must also concentrate on our emotional, physical and spiritual health, because without those we will always struggle with our health. I agree it helps to have friends and family around us who can help, but we have to be able to do it for ourselves.
To give ourselves a chance of living longer and having healthier lives, we have to be at peace regardless of who is around us. No one else can give us that.