Strong Social Connections Could Help Keep You Healthy

Monday, August 02, 2010

We have long been aware that there is some connection between having strong friendships and being in good health. But a new study shows that social connections are fundamentally important to our well-being. In fact, not having many strong relationships can be as bad for your health as smoking… and even worse than not exercising. What is a "healthy" social life for you? How many friends and relationships are enough for you?

Researchers at Brigham Young University conducted the study, and found that people with strong relationships with family, friends or co-workers have a 50 percent lower chance of dying over a given period than those with few social connections.

In the latest installment of our DIY Health series, we talk to Newsweek's health reporter, Kate Dailey, about the connection between social life and staying healthy.

Guests:

Kate Dailey

Comments [7]

Ed from New Jersey

I like Neal's research idea. I would take it one step further and include a 3rd group to study - those who feel especially isolated after becoming aware they have a serious illness, disability, addiction, loss, or other stressful life situation, when they finally find others "who have been there" in any of the hundreds of thousands of self-help (i.e. member-run) community support groups meeting regularly around the country.

For more research are the value of these mutual aid self-help groups, see research links by clicking on the American Self-Help Group Clearinghouse website at www.selfhelpgroups.org

Interestingly enough, the Wisconsin/RWJF national "County Health Rankings" came out in February and quantified and rated counties across the country for "Inadequate social support" as a key new health indicator. You can also see how "healthy" your local county is, compared to others in your state, by going to: www.countyhealthrankings.org

Aug. 03 2010 12:57 AM
Shannon from Arizona

Although the study itself probably isn't, this article is incredibly vague--I'll have to read the study. I agree with several statements above that we often but up with crappy friendships to avoid being alone to avoid reality in general. I crave caring connected socialization and I crave solitude. I prefer a close-knit few to a shallow many. I would rather have one to two meaningful social interactions per week than go out every night with whomever, just to be out. I felt differently in my twenties--I felt any night not out was a missed opportunity. I could care less now. Observing young folks interact makes me squirm and I don't long for those days, but I live in a community where I don't feel I really have a group of "my people" and it's a struggle. I think there is value in meaningful social interaction and I feel there is extreme value in learning to actually, fully, really be with yourself.

Aug. 02 2010 03:36 PM
Neal from Delray Beach, FL

With Facebook and the Internet being so much a part of the life of a person in America, I propose a simple experiment: test to see if the same chemical reaction in the brain happens in a socially active Facebook junkie and a moderately social person with almost no use of Facebook or its equivalent. You can vary that with World of Warcraft players or any group whose socializing is primarily from a computer interface. I predict the results will show humans need social connection more than the Internet hands down.

Aug. 02 2010 10:04 AM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, CA

I'm a high-functioning autist. Being with humans is much worse for me than being alone.

Aug. 02 2010 08:58 AM

I'm an only child. Being alone feels very natural and comfortable to me. I'm more than capable of keeping myself entertained and content.

Aug. 02 2010 08:40 AM
Bill

There's nothing like being around people to make one crave solitude, but social isolation can be devastating. The multitudes who tolerate bad relationships are evidence enough that most people will take bad company over no company at all. Since getting trapped in an upside down mortgage that prevents me from leaving my crumby job and moving where I can be closer to friends, I've been horribly socially isolated. I can hardly afford to go out or travel to meet people and am increasingly miserable. There is of course a feedback loop where being alienated makes you become more and more alienated. It sucks. If you know someone in a similar situation, give them a call once in a while. It might make them live longer.

Aug. 02 2010 03:00 AM
Robert from Plantation, Florida

I cut off all contact with my family years ago. I go home after work and spend time entirely by myself. After my partner and I broke up over a decade ago, I never dated again. Every once in a while I get together with friends, but not often.

Since that time, I am no longer overweight, my cholesterol ceased to be high, my career has thrived, and I feel more content with my life than I ever recall it being before. Certainly stress can adversely affect health, and to be alone can produce stress, but how we treat one another more often than not produces the worst stress of all. There's an excellent reason why a motion to adjourn is always in order.

Aug. 01 2010 03:10 PM

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