Study: Having Close Friends Leads to Longer Life

By Kevin Lee

Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an associate psychology professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah has co-written a study showing that people with strong close relationships are 50% more likely to live longer than those without. These relationships have been linked to lower blood pressure, better immune functioning and decreasing hospitalization length. In other words, the risks associated with being isolated and alone are as severe as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, being an alcoholic or being inactive and obese. The report analyzed 148 studies of over 300,000 people with an average age of 64 evenly divided between males and females. The participants were followed for an average of 7.5 years and showed that those over 18 with strong relationships lived an average of 3.7 years longer.
"Our relationships can have direct health benefits. They can help us cope with stress. We know we can count on people and have those resources available." - Holt-Lunstad
Having close friends or a support network of caring people can be crucial to getting through the tougher moments in life and has been linked to the stress-regulating hormone, oxytocin. Sharing problems with one another is an excellent stress reliever and gives people the sense that their pain is not exclusive to themselves. The study states that being part of a social network makes people feel needed and boosts self-esteem leading to taking better care of oneself.
"Social contact is to humans what water is to fish: you don't notice it until it's missing and then you realize it's really important" - John Cacioppo, University of Chicago
Holt-Lunstad suggests that the decline of inter-generational living arrangements and increasing affluence are intensifying the trend of isolation among middle- and higher-aged people. A 2006 study in the American Sociological Review found that "over the last two decades, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of Americans who report having no confidante" With the emerging role of technology in people's social lives, Holt-Lunstad wonders if the trade-off in face time for online time can have the same benefits. As Facebook recently reached its 500 millionth user, we should take time a reflect on the nature of our social interactions. Holt-Lunstad's study, co-authored with Timothy Smith and J. Bradley Layton appears in the current issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.

Source: Globe and Mail, Wednesday July 28 Edition (A2), globeandmail.com


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