Throughout our lifespan for healthy aging diet and exercise are deemed important but new findings suggest that social networks, too, play a vital role throughout our lives. The findings suggests that the more social networks we have at a younger age the better our health will be over our life times. This is the first study of its kind to link social networks with concrete physical well-being such as obesity, inflammation, and high blood pressure which can all contribute to poor health.
Professor Kathleen Mullan Harris said, “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.”
The latest findings are based upon previous research which examined that aging adults live longer if they have strong social ties.
The researchers found that the size of social networks was important for both young and older adults’ health. It was uncovered that adolescents in social isolation had a higher risk of inflammation equal to that of someone who lacked physical activity. Additionally those with high social interaction were protected against abdominal obesity. Furthermore, in later life, those in social isolation had poorer health outcomes worse than diabetes complications and unmanaged hypertension.
For those in middle age the number of social networks did not matter as much as what those social networks provided. Harris explained, “The relationship between health and the degree to which people are integrated in large social networks is strongest at the beginning and at the end of life, and not so important in middle adulthood, when the quality, not the quantity, of social relationships matters.”
The research team examined data from four nationally representative U.S. surveys which covered all life spans. They looked into three dimensions of social relationships: social integration, social support and social strain. They then studied how social relationships were associated with four key markers or mortality: blood pressure, waist circumference, body mass index and circulating levels of C-reactive protein which measures inflammation.
Professor Yang Claire Yang concluded, “We studied the interplay between social relationships, behavioral factors and physiological dysregulation that, over time, lead to chronic diseases of aging — cancer being a prominent example. Our analysis makes it clear that doctors, clinicians, and other health workers should redouble their efforts to help the public understand how important strong social bonds are throughout the course of all of our lives.”
The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.