If I asked you what the pillars of a healthy lifestyle were, I’m sure the first two words from your mouth would be diet and exercise. But, just as I suspected, there is another factor that’s just as important—and now it has been confirmed by science.
I’m talking about social isolation…and avoiding it through keeping up your social networks and hanging out with your friends.
Being Social Crucial for Mental and Physical Health
So, it’s confirmed: maintaining social networks and spending time with friends are just as important to your health as your diet and activity levels. I stumbled upon the new study yesterday, conducted by a research team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Now, we’ve known for a long time that having a good social network can do wonders for your mental health as you age, but what’s so amazing about this study is that it makes associations between friendships and physical health.
By looking at measures of physical well-being like abdominal obesity, blood pressure, and inflammation, researchers were able to make strong associations between a person’s physical health and their social lives. In a way, social networks may actually play a strong role in the prevention or development of chronic conditions like cancer, strokes, and heart disease.
Your Social Needs & Link to Health Change as You Age
Your social needs—and their importance to your health—seem to vary depending on age. The study found that children and older adults seem to be healthier with more friends and social networks. However, socially isolated adolescents, for example, were found to have the same increased risk level of inflammation as those who were physically inactive; while being socially integrated, with friends, clubs, or teams for example, protected against abdominal obesity.
Among older adults, social isolation was found to be even more harmful to a person’s health than diabetes or high blood pressure.
Middle-aged adults in the study also experienced health improvements when they were socially integrated; however, their social structures differed. Health improvements were noticed not with the quantity of friends or networks, but with the quality of them; meaning they got the most benefit from relationships that offered support.
Social Isolation a Major Health Risk
I’ve been reading so many articles that say that the best way to improve your health is through controlling your environment—which is true to an extent. However, doing this often leads to social isolation, which, it appears, can be just as damaging to your physical health as a poor diet or exercise habits.
As you embark on your health goals for 2016, try emphasizing friendships and expanding or strengthening your networks. Take classes, join community groups or simply make more of an effort to spend time in the presence of friends. A healthy life, after all, is all about balance.
Source for Today’s Article:
“Social networks as important as exercise, diet, across the span of our lives,” Science Daily web site, January 4, 2016; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160104163210.htm.