If ditching the gym to have brunch with your best friend makes you feel a tad bit guilty, cut yourself some slack. It turns out friendships can impact our health just as much as working out and eating properly do.
Researchers examined four long-term studies and concluded that having an active and fulfilling social life is crucial to maintaining physical health — especially for adolescents and elderly people. In other words, your friends are actually good for you!
“In adolescence, social isolation is equivalent to the effects of getting no exercise,” Kathleen Mullan Harris, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and senior author of the paper, told the Boston Globe. “The lack of social connections in old age is equivalent to having diabetes, in terms of increasing hypertension.”
The four studies included: an Add Health study tracking more than 20,000 teens into young adulthood; a national survey on midlife; and two surveys focusing on retirement and aging adults. In each of the studies the number and quality of an individual’s social life was compared with the four measures of physical health: BMI, inflammation, abdominal weight and blood pressure.
Researchers discovered a positive correlation between the number of social connections an individual had and his or her health. “With each additional social connection that you have, you get an added beneficial effect for your health,” Harris explained. “The more, the better.”
It’s likely that friendship matters the most in regards to health during adolescence and old age because the middle stages of life are occupied by partners, children and living parents, thereby fulfilling all the social requirements. When people are single earlier in life, they’re more likely to be dependent on friends and social interactions with others for companionship. Later in life companionship is also crucial, as parents have already raised their children, loved ones may have been lost and careers have come to an end — which is why many seniors opt to move into active senior communities.
This research validates previous research finding that individuals with active and thriving social lives can reduce the risk of mortality by 50 percent.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you noticed a correlation between your health and the quality of your relationships? Do you make your social life a priority? Do you ever exercise with your friends?