ENJOYING good “social connections” with friends, family, colleagues and neighbours can improve an individual’s chances of survival by 50%, a study has found.
Having little social interaction can be as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic, academics at Brigham Young University in America concluded.
The study, published in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal, also revealed being socially isolated can be more harmful than not exercising or twice as bad as the risks posed by obesity.
Researchers Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith analysed data from 148 previously published longitudinal studies measuring the frequency of human interaction and tracked health outcomes for a period of seven and a half years on average.
Since the information on relationship quality was unavailable, the 50% increased odds of survival may underestimate the benefit of healthy relationships, they found.
Prof Holt-Lunstad said: “The idea that a lack of social relationships is a risk factor for death is still not widely recognised by health organisations and the public.
“When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks.”
The study revealed friends and family influence health for the better in many ways, from providing a calming touch to finding meaning in life.
Prof Smith said good relationships benefit individuals throughout their existence from childhood to later life.
He said: “This effect is not isolated to older adults. Relationships provide a level of protection across all ages.”
Prof Smith added modern technology could lead some people to wrongly think that social networks are not necessary.
“We take relationships for granted as humans — we’re like fish that don’t notice the water. That constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically but directly to our physical health,” he said.
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