Want to Live Longer? Focus on Relationships

Why having a social life may be the best thing you can do for your health. 

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- Posted on Oct 26, 2018

Group of friends laughing around a dinner table

A slew of recent studies has found that meaningful relationships are significant contributors to long-term health. 

The quality and quantity of relationships has been shown to improve mental and physical health, as well as improve life expectancy. These discoveries have led policy makers and doctors to consider how an emphasis on maintaining robust relationships should be integrated into any healthy-living plan.  

Here are four ways relationships can improve your health:

1. Social ties decrease stress

A review published in PLOS Medicine found that people with strong social ties experienced less stress and lived on average 7.5 years longer than those with weaker social networks.  

"When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks," Julianne Holt-Lunstad, one of the study’s lead researchers and a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University told Science Daily. "This effect is not isolated to older adults. Relationships provide a level of protection across all ages."

2. Close relationships increase longevity

An Australian study found that those with close friendships lived 50% longer than those in a control group. The study authors were careful to note that this correlation was only true for those with deep relationships. Shallow friendships or a large number of acquaintances did not have the same impact on longevity. 

3. Church attendance lowers mortality

A study from Vanderbilt University found that people who attended church regularly had a 55% lower mortality rate. Church attendance has also been shown to lower depression by as much as 30 percent. Research from Ohio State suggested people who attended church lived nine years longer than those who did not attend. 

"Other social organizations can provide fellowship and support. But a church is unique because it provides meaning and purpose," Baldwin Way, a professor of psychology at Ohio State and the study’s lead author, told the National Catholic Register

4. Friendships are crucial for long-term health

The health benefits of relationships don’t just apply to family ties. In fact, research published in the journal Personal Relationships found that friendship was more important to long-term health than relationships with spouses or children. 

William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University and lead author of the two studies cited in the journal, believes the health benefits of friendship may increase exponentially as we age.

“You have kept those people around because they have made you happy, or at least contributed to your wellbeing in some way,” Chopik told Time. “Across our lives, we let the more superficial friendships fade, and we’re left with the really influential ones.”

The bottom line? If you care about your health, you should also care about the health of your relationships. How have relationships bolstered your health? Share in the comments below!

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