THE MORE SOCIAL TIES people have at an early age, the better their health is at the beginnings and ends of their lives, according to a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the institution said in a press release on Monday.
The research, Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span, links social relationships with concrete measures of physical well-being such as abdominal obesity, inflammation, and high blood pressure, all of which can lead to long-term health problems including heart disease, stroke and cancer.
A team drew on data from four nationally representative surveys of the US population that, together, covered the lifespan from adolescence to old age.
It evaluated three dimensions of social relationships: social integration, social support and social strain. It then studied how individuals’ social relationships were associated with four markers shown to be key markers for mortality risk: blood pressure, waist circumference, body mass index and circulating levels of C-reactive protein, which is a measure of systemic inflammation.
The team found that the sheer size of a person’s social network was important for health in early and late adulthood.
In adolescence, social isolation increased risk of inflammation by the same amount as physical inactivity while social integration protected against abdominal obesity.
In old age, social isolation was actually more harmful to health than diabetes on developing and controlling hypertension. In middle adulthood, it was not the number of social connections that mattered, but what those connections provided in terms of social support or strain.
The study was published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.