Did You Know Social Networks Can Save Your Life?

I find this a little hard to believe but a new study has found that social networks are as important in our lives as diet and exercise.

The more social ties people have at an early age, the better their health is at the beginnings and ends of their lives, according to a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, newswise.com reports. The study is the first to definitively link social relationships with concrete measures of physical wellbeing such as abdominal obesity, inflammation, and high blood pressure, all of which can lead to long-term health problems, including heart disease, stroke and cancer.

“Based on these findings, it should be as important to encourage adolescents and young adults to build broad social relationships and social skills for interacting with others as it is to eat healthy and be physically active,” says Kathleen Mullan Harris, James Haar Distinguished Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and faculty fellow at the Carolina Population Center (CPC).
 
Specifically, the team found that the sheer size of a person’s social network was important for health in early and late adulthood. In adolescence, that is, social isolation increased risk of inflammation by the same amount as physical inactivity (inflammation has been found to sometimes lead to cancer), while social integration protected against abdominal obesity. In old age, social isolation was actually more harmful to health than diabetes on developing and controlling hypertension.


In middle adulthood, it wasn’t the number of social connections that mattered, but what those connections provided in terms of social support or strain. “The relationship between health and the degree to which people are integrated in large social networks is strongest at the beginning and at the end of life, and not so important in middle adulthood, when the quality, not the quantity, of social relationships matters,” Harris says.

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