'Being sociable may help you live longer than loners'

Last Updated 14 September 2010, 07:12 IST

The survey, by researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina, found that people with friends, family and community involvement were 50 per cent less likely to die early than those with no social life.

Socially-connected people live an average of 3.7 years longer, according to the report which claimed the impact of friends was comparable to the effects of quitting smoking.
Loners with little social support, according to the study, have a mortality rate as high as alcoholics, and even higher than those affected by obesity or physical inactivity, the Daily Mail reported.

Bert Uchino, a psychology professor at the University of Utah and the man behind the research, said: "Friends and supportive people can make life easier on a basic, everyday level.

"They can lend you money, offer lifts or provide baby-sitting. They can also encourage you to have better health practices, see a doctor, exercise more.

"They may also help you indirectly by making you feel you have something to live for."
He said the emotional support people receive from friends and loved ones "can help you think about problems in ways that decrease their perceived severity or even make them non-problems".

"By having a secure relationship and feeling loved, people live much more secure, calm lives," he added.

The research showed that the link between death and loneliness applied to men and women of all ages, regardless of their initial health condition.

For their study, the researchers analysed data from 148 studies over three decades and involving more than 300,000 people.

Some studies measured the health of people living alone compared to those with families, while others checked the number of people's friends and the extent to which they felt they contributed to their communities.

In one test, the subjects wore a device to monitor their blood pressure and were asked to fill out diaries.

Those who wrote about being more cared for ended up with lower blood pressure than those who complained about lack of support.

"As humans, we have many different regulatory systems -- blood pressure, metabolism, stress hormones," Teresa Ellen Seeman, professor of medicine at the UCLA School of Public Health, said.

"There are data that suggest all these systems are affected by social relationships.

"People who report more supportive and positive social relationships have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, better glucose metabolism and lower levels of various stress hormones," she added.

Dr Antonio Gomez, of the University of California, said one key question not answered by the research was whether online social networks have any impact on mortality.

"Does Facebook count?" he asked. "Is a social network that is more virtual-based sufficient for survivability, or is it better to have a face-to-face interaction?

"The real message in a study like this is that people who are isolated should be screened for depression and anxiety."

(Published 14 September 2010, 06:20 IST)

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