Friends are important for your mental, and even your physical health! In fact, a meta analysis found that participants’ mortality risk increased 26% for reported loneliness, 29% for social isolation and 32% for living alone (after adjusting for potential confounders). This is greater than the mortality risk associated with being obese! But, what causes the increased health risk? At what stage in your life do friends matter the most? Is it the quality or quantity that counts?
A new study aimed to answer these questions. The study measured social integration (quantity of friends) as well as social support and social strain (quality of relationships) in 14,000 participants. The measures were analyzed against important health biomarkers including inflammation, blood pressure, waist circumference, and body mass index across adolescence, young adulthood and late adulthood. The researchers found that quantity of relationships were significant for inflammation and blood pressure at all 3 life stages. Results for waist circumference and BMI were significant only in adolescence.
Overall, quality of relationships was not as important as quantity, especially in adolescence (where there was no significant relationship). However, relationship quality was significantly related to inflammation in young adulthood, systolic blood pressure in late adulthood and both waist circumference and BMI in young and late adulthood.
People tend to focus mainly on diet and exercise when trying to improve their health, but social relationships should not be overlooked. In adolescence, being socially integrated is the most important for health. Quantity of relationships remain important in adulthood, but quality of relationships become more important as we age.
Holt-Lunstad, Julianne, et al. “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality A Meta-Analytic Review.” Perspectives on Psychological Science10.2 (2015): 227-237.
Yang, Yang Claire, et al. “Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016): 201511085.