A new study suggests that social ties are just as important to your long-term health as exercise and healthy eating. Researchers at the University of North Carolina in the US are calling on doctors, clinicians, and other health workers to redouble their efforts to help the public understand how important strong social bonds are throughout life.
Analyzing data from adolescents to seniors, the study team looked at social integration, social support and social strain to evaluate four indicators of health — blood pressure, waist circumference, body mass index and systemic inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, cancer and other diseases.
The study found that the more social ties people had at a young age, the better their health early and late in life. Previous research has shown that older adults live longer if they have a larger social network. This study suggests social links reduce health risks in each stage of life, the study authors explained.
In teens, social isolation is as great a risk for inflammation as physical inactivity, while having a strong social network appears to protect against abdominal obesity, the researchers found. In seniors, social isolation is more of a threat than diabetes in the development and control of high blood pressure, the study authors said. In middle adulthood, it is not the number of social links that matter, but rather the quality.