It's Not About How Long You Live.... But How Well You Live Long

Longevity Think Tank: What Do Friends Have to Do With Longevity?

Longevity Think Tank: What Do Friends Have to Do With Longevity?

“How well you live (long) is not measured in likes, comments or followers; but in part on your effort to make strong social connections with real people, keep comments to yourself, and lead.” the Author

An Australian study suggests that the 50+ crowd who maintain strong social connections, friends and confidants live longer, happier and more healthy lives than those who don’t. Having close family ties on the other hand have limited effect on longevity after 65 years of age.  The findings appeared in the July 2004 issue of The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

This study is clearly not about the number of Facebook friends that you have but rather the close connection with actual human beings that you trust and confide and influence. Exercise and quitting smoking are thought to be important steps for a long, healthy life, but this study’s suggestion for extending lifespan: make friends.

The results show people with strong social relationships increased their odds of survival over a certain time period by 50 percent, the researchers say. That’s on par with ceasing smoking, and nearly twice as beneficial as physical activity in terms of decreasing your odds of dying early.  The findings underscore just how important friendships are to our health, the researchers say.

Assessing social networks

The researchers reviewed 148 studies that examined the link between social relationships and mortality. The studies involved more than 308,000 participants in total, and subjects were followed for an average of 7.5 years.

The studies measured social relationships in a number of ways. Some simply looked at the size of a person’s social network or whether or not they were married or lived alone. Others assessed peoples’ perceptions about their relationships, such as whether or not they felt others were there for them. And still others looked at how integrated people were in their social networks or communities.

Overall, high scores on measures indicative of strong social relationships were associated with increased odds of survival. The results held regardless of the person’s age, gender, health status and cause of death.

In general, studies that took into account more than one aspect of a person’s relationship (for instance, social network size and how integrated a person is with that network) were better predictors of mortality than those that only assessed one measure (such as whether someone lives alone).

Why are friends and social connections beneficial?

Our relationships can influence our health in a variety of ways:

  1. Dealing with stress effectively
  2. Encouraging healthy behaviors that have a direct impact on our well-being
  3. Provide meaning to our lives and influence us to take better care of ourselves

A separate research paper recently examined the impact of social connection in 70 individual studies of 48,000 people. Researchers concluded that the likelihood of dying over a 7 year period was increased by 29% among those who were socially isolated. The impact of social connection was especially strong in those under 65 years old.

A similar finding of social disconnectedness has also been noted in the so-called “Blue Zones”-regions across the globe distinguished for both longevity as well as low rates of chronic disease. Although healthy patterns of eating were common in the Blue Zones, the company in which the food was consumed-as well as the strength of the social bonds-were also common denominators.

The other side of the coin.

“When we think about loneliness and social isolation, we often think of them as two faces of the same coin, But our findings suggest that a lack of social interaction harms health whether or not a person feels lonely. When you’re socially isolated, you not only lack companionship in many cases, but you may also lack advice and support from people.” ~Andrew Steptoe, PhD and epidemiologist at University College London

Doctors have long thought that both social isolation and feelings of loneliness can increase risk of illness and death in  people. But it has been less clear whether isolation, which can lead to loneliness, undermines health, or whether either factor, acting alone, can harm well-being. Recent studies indicate  that limited contact or communication with friends and friendly groups predicts illness and earlier death, regardless of whether it is accompanied by feelings of loneliness.

The scientists engaged in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing monitored 6,500 people aged 52 and older monitored the health, social well-being and longevity of people living in England. The researchers evaluated social isolation on the basis of the amount of contact participants reported having with family, friends,  and civic organizations, and they assessed loneliness using a questionnaire. They tracked sickness and mortality in study participants from 2004 to 2012.

The researchers found that social isolation was correlated with higher mortality — even after adjusting for pre-existing health conditions and socioeconomic factors — but loneliness was not.

My suggestion is:  Eat healthy, play hard daily with lots of friends, know your stuff and connect regularly with groups you enjoy being with.  Work at what you love; don’t worry about loneliness…. you do all this and you won’t be; it doesn’t matter anyway.

What do you think?


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