Make friends and live longer



Make friends and live longer

Nicky Phillips SCIENCE – Sydney Morning Herald, July 29, 2010

THE adage that friends can save your life turns out be true. Strong relationships with friends, family and colleagues can lower your risk of death by up to 50 per cent, a study has found. In comparison, low social interaction was just as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or being an alcoholic, and twice as harmful as being obese.

An analysis of 148 studies, which combined studied the social relationships of more than 300,000 people, found the health benefits of relationships were consistent across age groups and both genders. “Relationships provide a level of protection across all ages,” said a study author, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University in Utah. There were many ways friends and family could influence health for the better, including regulating stress and encouraging healthy behaviours, she said.

Relationships provide a sense of meaning and purpose in people’s lives, which in turn encouraged better self-care and less risk taking, she said. ”[They] also have a direct influence on physiological processes linked to health including blood pressure and immune functioning,” said Professor Holt-Lunstad, whose study is published in the journal PLoS Medicine. While there was no magic number of relationships which could improve a person’s health, people fared better when they had a number of close friends, strong family relationships, and good interactions in the community. However, the review did not assess the quality of relationships, which meant the overall effect relationships had on health may be understated in the study, the authors said.

How people perceived the quality of their relationships was more important than the absolute number of friends or relationships they had, said Frances Quirk, a health psychologist and associate professor at James Cook University.