by Kimberly Allen, RN
Although quitting smoking and regular exercise have long been though to be the key components needed for living a long and healthy life, in recent years there have been numerous studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants that have indicated people with social relationships, like friends, live longer than people that isolate themselves. In fact, one recent study demonstrated that people that have “strong social relationships increased their odds of survival over a certain time period by 50%.” That is equivalent to quitting smoking as well as being almost twice as beneficial as regular exercise as far as reducing your chances of dying early.
The significance of these findings and the potential impact on not only an individuals health but health care and prevention has caused researchers to urge health officials and clinicians, especially General Practitioner’s to actively treat loneliness as vigorously as they do other health issues like smoking and alcoholism. One researcher states “that constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically but directly to our physical health.” In fact, researchers have gone so far as to say that loneliness and isolation are as bad for your health as being an alcoholic or smoking 15 cigarettes a day as well as being just as detrimental as living a sedentary lifestyle. It was also found that loneliness or isolation is twice as detrimental to your health as being obese. This has scientists strongly urging not only doctors and health officials but health educators and the media to also consider social relationships as seriously as diet, exercise and smoking when it comes to impacting a persons physical health.
There have also been studies that indicate people suffering from chronic diseases as well as those fighting cancer that have strong support systems do significantly better with their treatments and live longer than those with no support system. One study of women with advanced ovarian cancer found that women that had a strong support system had significantly lower levels of a protein called interleukin-6 or IL6. IL-6 is a protein that is associated with more aggressive types of cancer. Low levels of IL-6 is also known to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy. In the study women with little or no social support had IL-6 levels that were overall 70% higher as well as being two and a half times greater in the area surrounding the tumor. Other studies have shown that people with cancer that participate in support groups not only lived two times longer they also suffered significantly less pain than those who did not participate in a support group.
There are even studies that indicate that people with a limited social circle are more likely to die sooner after suffering a heart attack than people with a strong social circle. Believe it or not researchers have even found that having a large group of friends can even reduce your chances of catching a cold.
Researchers have concluded that people with good social support systems including friends, family and co-workers have considerably less cardiovascular issues as well as fewer problems with their immune system. They also have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, making them feel more relaxed as well as content which is known to translate to better health.
There are a variety of ways to develop social relationships, however, with the Internet and social networking more and more people are spending their time on the computer instead of actual face to face physically “connecting” with friends and family. Many researchers are concerned that the increasing lack of direct social contact with others can lead to increasing health problems.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.