A meta-analysis in PLOS Medicine reveals that having good friends promotes better health, longer life. Yet, over the last several generations we have become more socially isolated, increasingly less likely to have many strong social relationships. Different generations of families no longer tend to live together or even near each other. Moreover, a larger number of people are putting off marriage and children and many more people are living alone.
The study looked at how different types of social relationships can lower a person’s risk of death. It analyzed 148 studies, including 308,849 people, and found that people with good social relationships had a 50 percent higher chance of living than people who lacked those relationships. It further found that the chance of survival increased regardless of age, gender, initial health status, reason for death and length of the study period.
The findings show that lack of social relationships can have as great an effect on risk of early death as smoking. Indeed, poor or few social relationships can have a greater bearing on likelihood of premature death than lack of exercise and obesity. Like loneliness and social isolation, negative social relationships are associated with a higher likelihood of early death.
A separate 2016 study in Heart found a link between social isolation and heart disease and stroke. It finds that loneliness is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Another study we reported on Just Care suggested that if you want to improve your heart health, you should get married!
Some believe that social relationships influence people cognitively, emotionally, behaviorally and biologically even when one person in a social relationship has no explicit intent to support another. For example, if a friend or partner models healthy behaviors, you are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors. One study we wrote about on Just Care, found that a person could help his or her spouse by exercising because it models healthy behavior. Social relationships also help give people’s lives meaning and purpose.
There is also evidence that suggests social relationships can improve patient care, reduce the length of a hospital stay, raise the likelihood of a person complying with his or her medical regimens. The findings suggest that doctors and other health care providers should recommend more and better social connections to their patients. Some believe that simply strengthening existing positive family relationships through more frequent interactions could be helpful.
Another meta-analysis reported in Sage finds that perceived social isolation is as much associated with higher risk of early death as actual social isolation.
Here’s more from Just Care: