It’s always fun having a friend to high five when you’re feeling fabulous, or to have a shoulder to cry on when you get the blues, but new research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reveals that having more social ties to people at an early age can lead to greater health benefits at the beginning and end of your life.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that measures of physical well-being such as abdominal obesity, inflammation, and high blood pressure, all of which are linked to further health problems, were definitively linked to social relationships, and that aging adults live longer when they have more connections.
It may sound a little bizarre, but in adolescence, a large network can protect against obesity, while social isolation can increase the risk of inflammation by the same amount as physical activity. In older people, isolation can be more harmful than diabetes when it comes to controlling and managing hypertension.
“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,” said Kathleen Mullan Harris, Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.
But don’t go reaching out on Facebook and Twitter for more followers just yet (unless you want to follow us – health benefits as yet unproven), because things get a bit different as you get older. Social networks are “not so important in middle adulthood,” Harris says, “when the quality, not the quantity, of social relationships matters.” (Again, it really is OK to Like us on Facebook…)
If you do want to use the power of Facebook to help feel a bit better or lose weight, a 2015 study found that online social networks have significant and sustained motivational effects if you have just joined a gym. We won’t lie, we’re not committed gym bunnies, but we do post hilarious pictures of the BBC Focus team playing with tech and the occasional funny animal photo…