More social ties at a younger age are linked to better physical well-being latter on, a new study finds.
The physical benefits include a lower risk of many long-term health problems including stroke, heart disease and cancer.
The study comes on top of earlier findings that older adults also live longer if they have more social connections.
Professor Kathleen Mullan Harris, one of the study’s authors, 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.”
For adolescents, the researchers found, larger social networks protected against inflammation and obesity.
For older adults, being socially isolated was worse for health than either hypertension or diabetes.
Professor Harris said:
“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 study drew from four nationally representative surveys in the US.
Social relationships were taken into account along with key markers of physical health like waist circumference, body mass index and blood pressure.
Professor Yang Claire Yang, the study’s first author, said:
“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 study was published in the journal PNAS (Yang et al., 2015).
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Published: 8 January 2016