Your Friends Are Just As Important To Your Health As Diet & Exercise

Written by Emi Boscamp

Photo by Stocksy

When it comes to staying healthy, eating right and working out are no-brainers. But there is something equally — but not as obviously — valuable to your health: hanging out with your friends.

According to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the more social connections people make throughout their lives, the healthier they'll be later on, and the longer they'll live.

Research has shown in the past that people live longer if they have strong social ties toward the end of life, but this is the first study to make the connection between having a lot of friends as an adolescent and staying healthy for the rest of your life.

The researchers gathered data from four nationally representative surveys of the U.S. population that included information on over 14,000 people's blood pressure, waist circumference, body mass index, and a protein that's a common marker of inflammation. They then compared how respondents described three aspects of their social lives: "social integration," "social support," and "social strain."

Then, looking at whether the quality and quantity of social ties were associated with the specific health markers, they came out with a few key findings:

  • The size of a person's social network, regardless of quality, was important for health in early and late adulthood.
  • Socially isolated adolescents face the same risk for developing inflammation as those who don't exercise.
  • For middle-aged adults, it wasn't the number of social connections that mattered, but what those ties provided in terms of social support or strain. (Here's how to tell if the friends you've got are keepers.)
  • Older adults are more at risk for developing hypertension from social isolation than from diabetes.

"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, one of the researchers, in a press release.

So, keep up the good work by staying active and being aware of what you put into your body, but it's also so important to maintain a social life and surround yourself with people you care about. They'll be there for you in more ways than you could ever imagine.

(h/t Science Daily)

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