My Q Health | Friends With Health Benefits
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Friends With Health Benefits

Friends With Health Benefits

Meghan Casserly, Forbes Staff

Your mother has been urging you to play nice and make friends since playground days. Heck, you’re even guilty of pushing your own children toward the sandbox with hopes that they’ll thrive socially and make fast pals with the other little girls and boys.

Decades later, if you’re lucky enough to have close friendships left over from childhood, there’s mom to thank. Her play yard prodding is the reason you have someone to cry, laugh and drink with whenever the need or want should arise. But more than that, new research shows that your friends may be the key to good health. Salute!

“The idea that social interaction is important to mental and physical health has been hinted at and studied for years,” says Steven Joyal, M.D., vice president of scientific affairs and medical development for Life Extensions, a nonprofit dedicated to research on extending the human life span. But a meta-study released this summer from researchers at Brigham Young University have determined the link is more direct than previously imagined.

“We knew that the body of research that had been done on social relationships was large,” says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., a co-author of the study. “But no one in the health community seemed to recognize the extent to which social relationships affect mortality.” The research was conducted to explore the extent to which social relationships and interactions influence morbidity. And for loners, the outcome wasn’t good.

Social isolation, according to the meta-analysis, which included 148 different studies totaling more than 300,000 participants, can have a very serious negative impact on your lifespan. Those with adequate or high social relationships–friends, family, neighbors or colleagues–were found to have a 50% greater likelihood of survival than their friendless counterparts. Some questions used included: Do you have people you can count on in times of need? Do you feel lonely? Do you live alone?

Turns out, social isolation may actually be one of the biggest risk factors for human mortality. As an example, here is how the study corresponds low social interaction to some of the more common risks to our wellbeing:

–As bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

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