Loneliness Can Be As Harmful As Being a Couch Potato
Sure, eating right and exercising are key to living a long, healthy life, but new research suggests social relationships can also be a big factor in reducing the development of abdominal obesity and high blood pressure.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that people who have more social ties, or frequent social contact with family and friends, had lower risks of physical disorders.
Researchers analyzed data from four nationally representative surveys of the U.S. population that covered the lifespan from adolescence to old age. They looked at three dimensions of social relationships: social integration, social support and social strain. They also examined how social relationships were associated with biomarkers of physical health -- blood pressure, waist circumference, body mass index and circulating levels of C-reactive protein, a way to measure inflammation.
They found that the amount of friends and social interactions a person has was important for health in both early and late adulthood. During adolescence, social isolation had the same effect on the body as physical inactivity -- it raised the risk of inflammation by the same magnitude as physical inactivity.
In old age, according to the researchers, social isolation seemed to have a more detrimental effect on blood pressure than diabetes.
The study sheds light on how social relationships can affect health across the person's entire life, suggesting that social support, measured by the quality, not quantity, of a social connection, mattered greatly for middle-aged adults and continued to have an effect on health in old age.
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