How Social Relationships Impact Your Health

As social beings, humans understand the value and importance of social connections. Relationships give us entertainment, assistance, guidance, and most importantly support knowing that you don’t have to face the world alone. UNC Chapel Hill conducted a study that suggests that social relationships may also impact your physical health and consequently influence how long you’ll live.

Social Connections May Improve Life Span

Thanks to scientific research, we’ve proven that a lack of social connections in a person’s life can decrease their life expectancy. In fact, having too few social connections may harm you to a similar extent as smoking, being obese, or not exercising enough. While loneliness can make you feel depressed mentally, can it affect your body physically? Research suggests that social isolation may lead to certain cardiovascular problems, cancer and other aging-related diseases such as arthritis and even diabetes.

Harmful Effects of Having Few Social Connections

The harmful side effects of social isolation can be present in both youth as well as adults. Teenagers who hold fewer social relationships can be more likely to be overweight. Adults over 50 years old with fewer social relationships are more likely to have higher blood pressure and hypertension. In fact, throughout all age groups, people who have less than average social connections are at a higher risk for inflammation. Inflammation is a physical condition that can lead to many other chronic diseases and illnesses, such as cancer and asthma.

It’s clear that our family and friends provide us with much more than most people realize. It’s important to understand that the social relationships mentioned in this study are positive social relationships, not negative ones. A negative social connection, such as that with an abusive parent or spouse, can actually harm your health.

Live Longer Together

Positive and meaningful relationships, whether with a family member, friend, partner, or community member, can help lower our risks for developing anxiety and chronic illnesses like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. Establishing and maintaining healthy social connections will go a long way towards keeping you healthy and happy.

Yang, Y.C., Boen, C., Gerken, K., Li, T., Schorpp, K. & Harris, K. M. (2015). Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. PNAS 113 (3), 578-583.

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