People who need people live longer

It’s pretty clear that eating a healthy diet, exercising, not smoking and not drinking to excess are factors linked to longevity. Perhaps the most ignored but potentially powerful strategy, however, is being a social butterfly.

In a study published Tuesday in the journal PLoS Medicine, researchers found that having social connections -- including family, friends and colleagues -- improved the odds of survival by 50%. They authors of the study described the impact of having a dearth of social contacts as comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day in terms of its effect on longevity. Or, to put it another way, it’s equivalent to being an alcoholic; is more harmful than not exercising and is twice as harmful as obesity. The researchers, from Brigham Young University, analyzed data from 148 previously published studies on old age and social interactions to reach their conclusions.

It’s difficult to say why relationships matter so much to human health. It could be that people who are connected to others take better care of themselves, take fewer risks or find more meaning to their lives.


“We take relationships for granted as humans -- we’re like fish that don’t notice the water,” a coauthor of the paper, Timothy Smith, said in a news release. “That constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically but directly to our physical health.”

The effect isn’t just limited to social connections in old age, the authors said. Relationships seem to improve health among all age groups.

-- Shari Roan

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