We get by with a little help from our friends. The wisdom of the philosophers from Liverpool becomes increasingly apparent as we get older. When we face bad and good times, we take comfort in and rejoice with the people who have known us – and accepted us – for years. Now, researchers at Brigham Young University say that social relationships are important not only because they bring emotional comfort but also because they actually make us healthier.
In the study in the journal PLoS Medicine, BYU faculty members Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith say that social connections improve the odds of survival by 50 percent, while people with low level of social connections increase their risk of health problems equal to that of people who smoke 15 cigarettes a day, are alcoholics or lead a sedentary lifestyle . Low social connections are twice as harmful as obesity, the researchers say.
They looked at data from 148 other studies that measured frequency of human interaction and health over an average period of seven and a half years. Social networks probably improve health because these connections help people manage stress and find meaning in life – which, in turn, makes people more likely to take care of themselves and others. The researchers said this effect is true at all ages, but is especially important as people get older.