In 2010, three researchers published a meta-analysis of 148 different long-term sociological studies. These looked at how human relationships affect our general health. The results were staggering – participants with stronger social ties had a 50% higher chance for surviving until the end of the study. That is not by any means, a small figure. Here’s an excerpt from the study:
“The researchers then used a statistical method called “random effects modeling” to calculate the average effect size of the studies expressed as an odds ratio (OR)—the ratio of the chances of an event happening in one group to the chances of the same event happening in the second group. They report that the average OR was 1.5. That is, people with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships. Put another way, an OR of 1.5 means that by the time half of a hypothetical sample of 100 people has died, there will be five more people alive with stronger social relationships than people with weaker social relationships.”
The study concluded that a lack of social ties was twice as harmful as obesity, as bad as being an alcoholic or smoking 15 cigarettes per day. The findings remained constant across age groups and sexes.
Others have supported this notion. Robert Waldinger, the director of a 75 year long Harvard University study on Adult Development, in his 2015 TED talk said “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
Despite all this overwhelming evidence, we hardly ever hear anyone say that being anti-social will have negative effects on our physical health. We talk about the dangers of tobacco and liquor regularly. How many times do we tell someone to avoid loneliness?
In addition to a longer lifespan, there’s much more you can do for yourself with a little social activity. This data from the USA’s National Center for Biotechnology Information strongly suggests that better relationships could prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Having more friends also reduces the risk of depression in teens, a study of over 2,000 individuals found.
Socializing builds our network – and having a strong, close network of people only adds to our self-esteem. It’s always engaging your brain, so mental functioning improves. There’s also moral and emotional support – your friends and family are going to be there to give you strength and cheer you up in bad times.
In 2017, many of us have substituted socializing, at least in part, with digital media. We send dozens of texts and add people on ‘social’ networks, but we hardly ever meet them in person. It’s time we started reversing that trend. It’s time we started meeting real people in the real world and living happier and healthier lives.
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