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Hang Out With Happy People — It Might Be Contagious

You can actually catch a good mood or a bad mood from your friends, according to a recent study in the journal Royal Society Open Science. But that shouldn’t stop you from hanging out with pals who are down in the dumps, say the study authors: Thankfully, the effect isn’t large enough to push you into depression.

The new study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that happiness and sadness—as well as lifestyle and behavioral factors like smoking, drinking, obesity, fitness habits and even the ability to concentrate—can spread across social networks, both online and in real life. But while many previous studies have only looked at friendship data at one point in time, this is one of the few that measured social and mood changes over time.

This method was able to show how friends actually influenced each other, and helped rule out the possibility that similarities between friends exist simply because people tend to gravitate toward and hang out with others like themselves.The new research involved groups of junior-high and high-school students who took part in depression screenings and answered questions about their best friends, many of whom were also enrolled in the study. In total, 2,194 students were included in the analysis, which used a mathematical model to look for connections among friend networks.

Overall, kids whose friends suffered from bad moods were more likely to report bad moods themselves—and they were less likely to have improved when they were screened again six months to a year later. When people had more happy friends, on the other hand, their moods were more likely to improve over time.

Some symptoms related to depression—like helplessness, tiredness and loss of interest—also seemed to follow this pattern, which scientists call “social contagion.” But this isn’t something sneaky and insidious that people need to worry about, says lead author Robert Eyre, a doctoral student at the University of Warwick’s Center for Complexity Science. Rather, it’s likely just a “normal empathetic response that we’re all familiar with, and something we recognize by common sense,” he says.

In other words, when a friend is going through a rough patch, it makes sense that you’ll feel some of their pain, and it’s certainly not a reason to stay away. But the fact that these negative feelings do spread across networks does have important health implications, says Eyre.

“The good news from our work is that following the evidence-based advice for improving mood—like exercise, sleeping well and managing stress—can help your friends too,” he says.

The study also found that having friends who were clinically depressed did not increase participants’ risk of becoming depressed themselves. “Your friends do not put you at risk of illness,” says Eyre, “so a good course of action is simply to support them.” To boost both of your moods, he suggests doing things together that you both enjoy—and taking other friends along to further spread those good feelings, too.’

 

Amanda MacMillan / Health.com   Sep 22, 2017   TIME Health
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The Solution to Millennial Loneliness

How do we stop being so lonely?

On a cold, moonless night, the co-owner of Macy’s department store and his wife were aboard the sinking Titanic. Mrs. Straus distributed blankets to the women and children in Life Boat No. 8. But, when asked to enter the lifeboat herself, she refused to leave Mr. Straus’s side. “All these years we have traveled together, and shall we part now? No, our fate is one,” she explained. Two sailors tried to force her in, and she wrangled herself free, looking at her husband. “Where you go, I go,” she said. The couple was last seen arm in arm on the deck, the finale of their forty years together.

Today, a different sentiment dominates. It’s closer to, “Where you go, I might consider visiting.” The individual comes first.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why millennials are lonely. In short, it’s because loneliness is contagious (literally), and the internet exacerbates it. Our “infectious isolation,” I concluded, is mounting.

This is problematic for lots of reasons: In animals, social isolation shortens lifespan, promotes obesity and diabetes, hinders psychosexual development, and increases cortisol levels. In humans, social isolation has, according to Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, “an impact on health comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity or smoking.” Socially isolated people are more than twice as likely to die of heart disease. They’re also more stressed, less creative, have lower self-esteem, and feel less in control of their lives than non-lonely people.

So how do we stop being lonely?

I think the answer starts with priorities. Social connection has become less important to us. One large cross-sectional study found that subjective loneliness actually declined slightly between 1978 and 2009 in adolescents, while objective social isolation increased. High school students in 2009, the study’s authors write, “reported fewer friends with whom to interact, but less desire for more friends.” Meanwhile, empathy decreased, and insecure attachments increased.

This is consistent with my own experience. Since graduating college, I’ve put friendships on the back burner. I even emailed someone wanting to grab coffee a couple months ago that “I’m just incapable of making friends right now. There’s a little too much going on with work.” The fact that today many people’s best friends are from college may attest to the amount of effort we put into friendships after college.

When I was suffering from a bout of loneliness last year, my boyfriend told me to just go out and meet people. Well, I’m not that lonely, I thought. But recovering from our society-wide isolation will require effort.

Just meeting people, however, isn’t enough. We also need to sacrifice for them. In response to my last article, several readers pointed out that trust is missing from many modern friendships. I think trust is the feeling that someone has your back no matter what. And, today, the truth is very few people do.

In a 2012 op-ed for the New York Times, Sherry Turkle wrote that we’re “increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.” Millennials may be lonely not just from insufficient social interaction, but also due to insufficient social obligation.

Generational researcher Jean Twenge has found that millennials are significantly more likely than adolescents in the 1970s to describe themselves using traits like “independent” and “assertive.” The resulting gains from this attitude are real, and shouldn’t be discounted — particularly for women. But it’s also, in a way, too bad.

My friends and I have talked about how you never know whether to stay in a city, because your friends could leave soon for some better job somewhere else. If you stayed, hoping they’d stick around, you’re SOL. (Even the prospect that you’d consider them before your career is embarrassing.) Our solution to get everyone to stay put, we joke, is to build a commune. But we know that will never happen. And we know, if we get a better opportunity elsewhere, we’ll leave.

Our commune dream is for something quasi-contractual to keep us together. This is also why, though millennials are marrying later, many of us quietly crave a ring. But marriage, indeed, is a perfect example of our stubborn determination to be a, or at least give, the bird: we’re marrying later — by an average of six years since 1960 — to extend our geographic and professional autonomy.

Amazingly, research has found that attachment to even just a place reduces loneliness. If everyone decided to remain in the same city or town for a lifetime, as they did for centuries before now, we’d receive the two best remedies for loneliness: a home and a community.

I know that’s unrealistic. But before genuine connection sinks altogether, it’s worth thinking about what such a loss would actually mean. Seventeenth-century English poet John Donne wrote that, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We like to believe we’re floating free. But we need each other, and acting otherwise results more in isolation than true independence.

A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.
Apr 25, 2017    Caroline Beaton      The Gen-Y Guide


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Is Living Alone the Unlikely Answer to Loneliness?

New research shows that people who live alone are less lonely.

The authors of the book Loneliness describe their concern that Western societies do not take the inherent gregariousness of humans seriously enough. They note that “the latest figures show that ever-greater numbers of people are accepting a life in which they are physically, and perhaps emotionally, isolated from one another.” Among the evidence they cite in support of that fear is the growing number of people who live alone.

It seems intuitive that people who live alone would be lonelier than people who live with others. Most single people do not live alone, yet single people are believed to be lonelier than married people. I’ve found evidence of this in my own research, and researchers in other countries have as well.

A new study of loneliness, based on a large sample of German adults, examined the links among loneliness, living alone, and living single. The research was based on data collected in 2013 from more than 16,000 Germans ranging in age from 18 to 103, who represented more than 10,000 households.

The authors found that when they compared people who lived alone to people who lived with others—focusing on that key aspect of their living arrangement and not letting other factors muddy the picture—the people who lived alone were less lonely.

They also tried to make the case that single people are lonelier, and seemed to imply that if they were to get married, their loneliness would subside. But they ended up showing that they really don’t understand basic methodologies, and that they don’t appreciate, psychologically, how the experience of living single after you get divorced or become widowed could profoundly differ from the experience of living single all your life.

Loneliness and Living Alone: The Link Is Not What You Think

When the authors simply compared the people who lived alone with those who lived with others, the people who lived alone reported more loneliness. But people who live alone differ from the people who live with others in all sorts of ways, so we don’t know, without looking more closely, if living alone really is linked with greater loneliness.

Fortunately, the authors took this step. They found that one way people who live alone differ from others is in their income. So they controlled for income statistically, which means that they essentially compared people at the same level of income to see how loneliness differed between those living alone and those living with others.

Here’s what they found: When people who live alone have the same income as people living with others, the people who live alone are less lonely.

The authors conclude that “living alone may even have beneficial effects on the quality of one’s social relationships” and add, as researchers often do, that more research is needed. Many studies already show the ways in which single people are more connected to other people than married people are, and demonstrate that it is the people who marry, rather than those who stay single, who become more insular.

The research does not show that living alone is a cure for loneliness. Among the people who live alone are those (we don’t know exactly how many) who chose to live that way. If people who prefer living with other people were urged to live alone, we don’t know what would happen. Maybe they would make an effort to form and maintain the kinds of social ties that keep loneliness at bay. Or maybe they would just end up lonely.

The Link Between Loneliness and Single Life

The authors used their data to compare three groups:

  • People who are single and not living with a partner;
  • People who have a romantic partner but are not living together; and
  • People who are living with a romantic partner (and are often married).

They seem to think they know what they are going to find, because in their view, previous research shows that, “Being married is robustly associated with lower levels of loneliness.” They report that in their own research, “average loneliness levels were highest among singles and lowest among those living with their partners.”

The implication seems to be that if only those single people would get married, their loneliness would dissipate. The authors never quite say that married people are less lonely because they are married, but that seems to be the implication.

The problem is, neither their data, nor the data from the previous research they cite, could ever establish that getting married causes people to be less lonely. In fact, the design of the studies and the comparisons they use are a set-up, biased to make married people look less lonely than they really are. The studies compare only people who are currently married (or living with a romantic partner) to those who are single. They set aside all of the people who got married, felt desperately lonely in their marriage, and then got divorced. No, wait—the authors of this paper did not set them aside. If the people who got divorced are still single, the authors included them in the single group, along with the lifelong single people.

And what about people who are widowed, and who may indeed feel deeply lonely without their spouse? They are also included in the group of lifelong single people.

Here’s what their data really show: If you include all of the people who are widowed (and may well be quite lonely) in the group of single people, as well as all of the people who chose to marry but then divorced (and may also be feeling lonely on their own after having been married), then the people who are left in the married group are less lonely than the people who were included in the single group. But does that mean that if all the single people got married, they would become less lonely? No, the research does not show that at all.

In fact, even by using the technique that gives married people a great big unfair advantage, the results were a lot less definitive than the authors expected. When they looked separately at three age groups, they found that romantic relationship status didn’t matter among the adults younger than 30. People who were living with a romantic partner (and often married), people who had a partner but were not living with that partner, and people who were single (with no romantic partner) all experienced about the same levels of loneliness. Among those older than 65, the singles were a bit lonelier, but the differences were small. Only among the middle-aged group (ages 30-65) were the people living with romantic partners noticeably less lonely than the single people.

The article could leave readers with the impression that those people were less lonely because they were married (or cohabiting). An alternative possibility is that the married group looks less lonely because so many of the people who were lonely in their marriages got divorced (and then the authors put them in with the lifelong single people). The article doesn’t discuss the fact that the single group also includes people who are widowed, and are probably lonely because they miss their spouse. The implication seems to be that being single means you’re lonely, and if you’re married, you’re not lonely.

I want you to think smarter than that.

When the authors state in their article abstract that the “late-life increase in loneliness could be explained by…higher proportion of singles in this age group,” the implication seems to be that single means lonely. That might lead you to think, “Oh those poor old people, they are lonely because they are single.” But maybe they are lonely because so many of them are widowed. Maybe they spent so many years of their lives married that they don’t know how to lead a full, rich, socially connected life as a single person. And maybe lifelong single people do know how to do that.

Actually, there’s no need to qualify that last statement with a “maybe.” We already know, from lots of research, that lifelong single people have more friends than married people, and do more to maintain their ties with friends, siblings, parents, and neighbors. It is when people get married that they turn inward and pay less attention to the other people in their lives.

Clinging to Ideology, Not Facts

  • The arguments in the article seem to be rooted in an ideology of marriage, which maintains that just about everyone wants to marry and that people who get married are better off physically, psychologically, and interpersonally than they were when they were single. I believe this because of the way the authors talk about single people and partnered people. For example:
  • When discussing loneliness in older people, they say that “the absence of a significant attachment figure (spouse, partner)” is important. Do you see what’s wrong with that? This suggests that only a spouse or romantic partner counts as a significant attachment figure. No matter how close you may be to a lifelong friend, a sibling, or anyone else; and no matter if your relationship with another person meets all the criteria for an attachment relationship, your attachment figure is not considered a significant one if that person is not a spouse or romantic partner.
  • The authors say that “the formation of an intimate relationship and partnership in young adults is a developmental accomplishment.” It is, if that’s what you want.  But not everyone wants that. There are young adults (and adults of every age) who are uninterested in that goal. In this article, marriage is portrayed as an accomplishment. That’s an ideological assumption, but it is stated more like a fact — and this is in a scientific publication.

When the authors find, to their surprise, that romantic relationship status has nothing to do with loneliness among adults younger than the age of 30, they try to explain it this way: “[Y]ounger people can compensate for the absence of a romantic partner through a larger social network in both private and professional life.” The key word is “compensate.” It reveals the assumption that romantic relationships matter more than any other relationships, to all people, and therefore if adults do not have such a relationship, they need to compensate for that somehow.

The compensation assumption is especially remarkable in light of the authors’ own findings. Relationship status did not matter as much as they thought it would. Results were not consistent across the three age groups, and they did not mean what the authors said they did. But another factor matters, in predictable ways, and in consistent ways across the three age groups: having friends.

What’s more, there was no undermining the importance of friendship, no matter how the authors analyzed the data. People with more friends were less lonely. The results were that simple. But nowhere do we learn anything about how people need to compensate for not having friends.

Bella DePaulo Ph.D.   Living Single   Sep 26, 2016


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Fun Fact Friday

  • Girls who have more ‘guy friends’ than ‘girl friends’ go through less depression and anxiety.
  • Napping actually improves stamina, boosts your creativity, boosts your sex life and reduces stress.
  • Blowing out candles on birthday cakes results in roughly 3000 bacteria capable of forming colonies on the cake.
  • Blood donors in Sweden are sent a text message every time their blood is used to save a life.
  • The most used drug worldwide is caffeine.
  • If two people are having a dispute, the angrier one is usually wrong. This is because anger clouds judgement.
  • When feeling depressed, do some cleaning. Straightening out the physical aspects of your life can also bring clarity to the mental one.

 

Happy Friday  🙂
 
source:       factualfacts.com       https://twitter.com/Fact       @Fact


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Five Ways Christmas Affects Your Brain

Christmas is a time of year like no other; gifts are exchanged, little-spoken-to relatives are contacted, and appetising treats are consumed with great gusto. Christmas can be both a time of stress and a time of relaxation. But whether you love or hate Christmas it’s pretty difficult to avoid – and so your brain may be altered by the experience one way or another. Here are some of the main facets of the Christmas experience, and how they might affect your brain.

The festive spirit: The joy surrounding Christmas may influence some of the chemicals in your brain (dopamine and serotonin) which affect your happiness levels. Dopamine is known to be involved with reward-driven behaviour and pleasure seeking and serotonin is thought to increase our feelings of worth and belonging. So when people talk about “Christmas cheer” they may be on to something.

In fact, researchers at the University of Copenhagen conducted an imaging study to try and find the “centre” of the Christmas spirit in the human brain. Here, participants were shown Christmas-themed images and, in those participants who actively celebrated Christmas, there was increased brain activation in the sensory motor cortex, the premotor and primary motor cortex, and the parietal lobule. Previously these brain areas have been associated with spirituality, bodily senses and recognising facial emotions. While these results should be interpreted with some caution, it is interesting to note the physical effects that feeling festive can exert on your brain.

christmas

Stress: Not everyone finds Christmas an entirely joyful and festive time – many people find it very stressful. In fact, the burdens of navigating through a busy shopping centre to find the ideal gift for your other half, or of cooking the perfect turkey for a house full of hungry people, is enough to rattle even the calmest person. Stress can exert a physical response in your body, with the automatic release of adrenaline and cortisol. Further, cortisol has been shown to have a profound effect on the hippocampus, which may decrease your memory and ability to multitask.

Giving gifts: The giving and receiving of gifts is an age-old Christmas tradition and there’s no better feeling than seeing your loved one’s eyes light up when you’ve found the perfect gift for them. But why does giving make us feel so good? Generosity has been linked with the reward circuitry of our brain, causing the release of dopamine and endorphins. Researchers have described a “helpers’ high”, which is experienced after giving. The chemicals that cause this high can reduce stress and increase your desire to repeat these acts of kindness. So, while you may resent being out of pocket after buying your great aunt that pair of slippers, your brain at least ensures that you are compensated with a chemical reward.

Bonding with family and friends: The quintessential Christmas experience involves sitting around a table with your loved ones. In fact, it’s hard to even imagine the festive period without thinking of your family and friends. The bond between you and those special to you can result in the release of a hormone called oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin – sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone” – drives maternal behaviour, trust, and social attachment. As such, this hormone may help towards explaining that warm, fuzzy feeling you get at Christmas when surrounded by those you love and trust.

Overindulging: Indulging in our favourite food and drinks is all part of the Christmas experience – but overeating can affect your brain. It has been shown to activate a pathway linking the hypothalamus in the brain to the immune system. This leads to an immune response and low-grade inflammation, which may explain why you can feel unwell after eating too much. Of course, this doesn’t do much harm to your body after one extravagant Christmas meal – but, when overeating becomes a long-term issue, this inflammation can become chronic, and contribute to Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

But for now, don’t worry too much if you’ve got Christmas on the brain, you’ll soon be back to your usual self come January.

December 21, 2016     Kira Shaw    Postdoctoral Researcher in Neuroscience, University of Sussex
 


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Are You Living Well?: 10 Questions to Answer

I know from my own experience and behavior, and that of my clients, that it’s very easy to forget which behaviors are good for me. This is particularly true when I’m stressed, tired, excited, or out of my usual environment. At times like these, good habits are forgotten and beneficial behaviors go by the wayside.

I strongly suspect this is the case for most people, so I’ve created a well-being checklist to help you get back on track and support yourself. By practicing some of these behaviors you can lessen your stress and stop yourself from becoming burnt out or exhausted. As a result, you’ll feel more relaxed and able to enjoy your leisure time.

What’s my sleep like?

Most people need six to seven hours of good quality sleep. (There are exceptions, but not many.) Make sure you are not overstimulated before bed, and don’t eat a heavy meal, exercise, or use electronic devices within two hours of going to sleep.

What’s my digestion like?

Eating too much fat and sugar, having too much caffeine, and eating a high-carbohydrate diet depletes our energy, even if we get an initial boost from it. Small amounts of good protein, fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts all support our system. Try to nurture your gut by chewing your food well and not eating in a hurry. And follow the 80/20 rule by eating well 80 percent of the time and pleasing yourself 20 percent of the time.

How much do I drink?

First, are you hydrated? Make sure you get enough liquids on hot days and busy days, preferably water. Second, how much alcohol do you drink? Alcohol is a depressant that slows down your immune function and can damage your liver and cells. Try to have three or four days when you don’t drink, and keep an eye on quantity. Also, alcohol disrupts your sleep pattern.

How do I feel about myself? How’s my self-esteem?

Do you like yourself and think you are doing a good job in or out of the home? You can improve your well-being by recognizing when you do well: Finish the laundry, then sit and have a cup of coffee. Got that project done on time? Treat yourself to your favorite sandwich. When things don’t go so well, be your own cheerleader. What can I learn from this? Maybe I need to ask for help. Make your self-talk positive.

patience_with_yourself

How fast am I going?

Speeding up is a natural response when we are under stress. Unfortunately it tells our body and brain that there is a threat. Initially you will be able to respond faster, but soon you will exhaust yourself and become anxious. Slow down and assess the situation. Maybe you need more help, maybe the tasks you have to complete in one day are too numerous, or maybe your expectations are unrealistic.  Whatever the case, driving yourself forward is not the answer. Learn to prioritize and be realistic and let the rest go.

Do I regularly multitask?

Constantly doing two or three things at the same time means you do none of them to the best of your ability, and you fail to get the most out of what you are doing. If you’re at your child’s school play and you’re texting, where’s your focus? How much are you enjoying yourself? Juggling is not a good thing to do every day unless you work for the circus. There’s a reason we don’t ask surgeons to re-wire our houses or plumbers to teach physics or professors to cook restaurant meals. I’m sure there are people who are multi-talented but specializing is better for us (and usually better for those around us).

Do I have one or two really good friends I can count on, and do I keep in touch with them?

Social contact with people who know and understand us is supportive and relaxing. Humans are social animals who need nurture, contact, and approval. Make sure you’re getting this. We need to be with people with whom we can just be ourselves and be appreciated for who and how we are. If your family doesn’t fit the bill, seek out friends who do and make sure you nurture these relationships; they can keep you afloat when something goes seriously wrong and support you and engender resilience in everyday life. (see: Weiss, R.S. (1974), The Provisions of Social Relationships)

How much of my day do I spend interacting with electronics instead of people?

This is fine, up to a point. You may be an IT specialist and that’s your job. However, humans need human contact for support, self-worth, and fun. Make sure that you put away your phone and turn off the computer and TV now and again and have an “electronics holiday.” We are not designed to have relationships long distance. Contact and interaction support our humanness and well-being. Make sure you get your share.

What do I do on a daily basis that gives me leisure and/or pleasure?

We all need downtime. Do you have a hobby? Do you read? Do you play a sport? Humans are designed to play, so try to find time for something that you enjoy that gives you a break from your normal tasks. Additionally, do you take pleasure in small everyday things? This can be as simple as a cup of coffee on your way to work, enjoying the view from your office window, or appreciating the man who always says hello to you. Don’t take these things for granted—everyday small pleasures improve our life. You can join in by smiling at people and saying thank you for small courtesies.

How grateful am I?

A sense of gratitude can boost your well-being and even alleviate depression. I suggest that at the end of every day you find at least three things to be thankful for. They can be basic, simple things, such as “the roof over my head” or “legs that take me wherever I want.” This brings into your awareness how fortunate you are. Not everyone has these things. Don’t forget to thank your family, partner, and friends, too. People who feel fortunate and express gratitude are more optimistic and resilient. If you do this every day for a month, the list of positive things you notice will grow exponentially and the list of things that are wrong in your life will shrink and lose their ability to affect you.
Remember, this is my list, compiled from working with clients and monitoring my own bad habits, so not everything on it may resonate with you. We are designed to pick up when things aren’t right for us, so trust your instincts and start to support yourself both physically and mentally—you’ll see your well-being soar.

Posted Sep 16, 2016         Atalanta Beaumont        Handy Hints for Humans
 


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We Get by With a Little Health Help From Our Friends

Friendship might be even more golden than we think. A study finds that having good relationships with friends and family boosts not just your mental health, but physical one as well.

Researchers combined data from four large studies that have been following, for decades, the physical and mental well-being of thousands of Americans between the ages of 12 and 91. They focused on social ties that participants reported, such as number of friends and amount of family support, and markers of physical health, including obesity, blood pressure and inflammation, over subsequent years.

The researchers found that the more socially connected a person was, the lower their blood pressure down the road. For adolescents, being popular also seemed to protect against becoming overweight and, specifically, from gaining weight in the mid-section.

“These findings add support for the theory that social integration buffers the daily stresses that we all experience [by] having people to talk to, share experiences and the hassles of everyday life with,” said Kathleen Mullan Harris, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. Harris led the new research, which was published on January 4 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

When we are socially isolated and don’t have this buffer, we may have higher levels of stress hormones in the body such as adrenaline that “breaks down the body and biological systems,” Harris said.

“We hope our research will bring attention within the biomedical field to the importance of social factors and that doctors seeing their patients even in an annual visit will not just see what risks they have like diabetes but ask them about their social activities,” Harris said. Doctors could encourage patients to develop their social connections and engage in more activities, she said.

Why social connections boost health

Research has piled up over the years suggesting that loneliness can kill. Social isolation has been linked with 30% higher risk of early death. It has also been associated with higher risk of diseases “across the board,” such as heart disease, stroke and cancer, Harris said.

The current study is a big stride forward because it supports the idea that social connections could be directly influencing health rather than the other way around, said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University.

There have been questions over whether health outcomes such as obesity could actually be causing people to become more socially isolated, said Holt-Lunstad, who was not involved in the current study but has conducted research on the social relationships and risk of death. However, because the current study followed participants over time, it could tell that people were already socially isolated before they became overweight or developed high-blood pressure.

Friends, family and spouses could be having beneficial effects on stress levels and other physiological markers, Holt-Lunstad said. But there could also be a slew of additional ways that these relationships boost our health.

“It can be everything from the time we’re little we have our parents encouraging us to eat our vegetables … to a spouse or romantic partner encouraging us to get more sleep,” Holt-Lunstad said. Friends and family can make us more likely to adhere with medical treatments and make doctor’s appointments, she added.

However, friends can also have negative effects on your health. If you have close relationships with smokers, you are more likely to smoke, for example, Holt-Lunstad said.

friendship

 

It depends on how old you are

The kinds of health benefits that we stand to gain through better social relationships probably depends on what age we are, Harris said.

For adolescents, social connections have a similar effect on weight as exercise. The young people in this study could be especially at risk of becoming overweight because they belong to a cohort from the late 1990s when the obesity epidemic really took off, said Harris, who is director of the adolescent cohort Add Health.

Among the older adults in this study, social isolation was about as big a risk factor for developing high-blood pressure as having diabetes. These connections could be especially important later in life because that is when people are really at risk of high-blood pressure later, Harris said.

Unlike with the young and older age groups, social integration did not seem to influence measures such as weight and blood pressure for middle-aged adults. However, while the quantity of relationships did not seem to matter, the quality did. Participants in this age group who reported having the most relationship strain had higher levels of BMI and C-reactive protein than those reporting the least strain.

“It makes perfect sense from a life course perspective — in middle age you are naturally embedded in so many networks [with children, parents, your community], it’s almost involuntary that you’re in all these networks,” Harris said. Instead, “it was more what those connections give you.”

You have to have the right friends

One of the strengths of this study is that it found a dose effect of social relationships, meaning the more relationships you have, the greater the health benefits, Holt-Lunstad said.

“Many people assume there’s a threshold effect – if you’re lonely or isolated you’re at risk, but as long as you’ve got someone in your life you’re OK,” Holt-Lunstad said.

Having a mix of different relationships also could be beneficial.

“Different people in your life potentially influence you in different ways … by having these different relationships we may be tapping into additional (biological) pathways that combine to a stronger effect,” Holt-Lunstad said.
“We can all benefit from taking our relationships just as seriously for our health as we do other lifestyle factors,” she said.

 

By Carina Storrs, special to CNN     Fri January 15, 2016
 
source: cnn.com