July 27, 2010
Socially Connected People Live Longer

Socially isolated people are more likely to kick the bucket, push up the daisies, go thru the final check-out, and do the Big Sleep.

A new Brigham Young University study adds our social relationships to the “short list” of factors that predict a person’s odds of living or dying.

In the journal PLoS Medicine, BYU professors Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith report that social connections – friends, family, neighbors or colleagues – improve our odds of survival by 50 percent. Here is how low social interaction compares to more well-known risk factors:

- Equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day

- Equivalent to being an alcoholic

- More harmful than not exercising

- Twice as harmful as obesity

“The idea that a lack of social relationships is a risk factor for death is still not widely recognized by health organizations and the public,” write the PLoS Medicine editors in a summary of the BYU study and why it was done.

You could join a sun bathing club to get enough vitamin D. Double bonus points. Though skin cancer could be a problem. Or join a hunter-gatherer tribe and eat a natural Paleo Diet. Again, two birds with one stone.

Stop smoking or get some friends. If you are a smoker who opts to get some friends choose fellow smokers so that non-smokers don't have to breath in the second hand smoke.

Individuals with adequate social relationships have a 50% greater likelihood of survival compared to those with poor or insufficient social relationships. The magnitude of this effect is comparable with stopping smoking and exceeds many well known risk factors for mortality such as obesity and physical inactivity. These are the main findings of a meta-analysis of social relationships and mortality risk conducted by Julianne Holt-Lunstad (Brigham Young University, Utah, USA) and colleagues and published in this week's PLoS Medicine.

Pick up a new lover at a bar and start an affair. Anything to avoid loneliness.

If friendships lengthen life expectancies how do they do this? Being alone is probably more stressful for most people. Also, friends can help get you to a doctor or hospital or take care of you when you are sick. Plus, if your girlfriend is a good cook you'll eat better. Certainly has worked for me.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 July 27 10:41 PM  Aging Lifestyle Studies

Lyle said at July 28, 2010 10:02 AM:

It could be that maintaining a social network inherently brings about exercise. Going to lunch with friends? You have to get off your butt and out of the house. Going shopping with friends? You probably walk around longer, look at things you wouldn't otherwise, and again - are off your butt for a little more each day. (Standing is good for you.)

Also, the large social network group partly excludes the least healthy - in that those unhealthy enough to move will not be able to get out of the house to maintain a large social network.

Finally, those with the largest social network? Probably more attractive, more symmetrical, and less stressed from social anxiety than those with a smaller group.

This isn't to say that social relationships aren't good for you and lengthen life (you can even see this with pets), but I'd like to see a sub-group analysis of this where the social network is only online. That might help to see how the primary social effects compare to just selecting a group that has healthy habits.

Chris T said at July 28, 2010 10:22 AM:

I've lost about 40 pounds over the last year and a half and am much fitter. When people ask me how I did it, I tell them I got married.

kurt9 said at July 28, 2010 9:33 PM:

Chris T,

Most people gain weight when they marry. Perhaps you married a women who enjoys outdoor sports.


I'm sure your explanation is correct. Having friends and living an outgoing life is certainly good for one's mental health even if it does not affect physical health. I think the most likely explanation is that people who have a social life get out of the house more and are more active. People who lack friends tend to stay home a lot and live a sedentary life. I'm sure that the BYU professors did not isolate this factor out of the equation.

Chris T said at July 29, 2010 11:11 AM:

"Most people gain weight when they marry. Perhaps you married a women who enjoys outdoor sports."

Nah, just a woman who forced me to take care of myself - exercise and much healthier food.

kurt9 said at July 29, 2010 1:41 PM:

"Nah, just a woman who forced me to take care of myself - exercise and much healthier food."

Lets say that I am single and that I already do all of these things AND that I take compounds (e.g. Resveratrol, etc.) that are likely to extend healthy life span. In my case, there would not be any longevity benefit to marriage. In some cases, marriage can even be life-threatening for some. For example, the "hostile wife phenomenon" in cryonics. See:


The problem with these kinds of studies is that they assume AVERAGE people. Most people who read this stuff (and this blog) are likely to be anything but average. This is the reason why I consider these kinds of studies to be meaningless to people like myself.

ASPIRANT said at August 3, 2010 4:38 PM:

It's well known that happiness corresponds with overall health. Just goes to show that those who are already fortunate benefit further from fortune's hand. And those who aren't... don't.

Vic said at August 5, 2010 4:15 PM:

Are ethnic groups on Earth that could benefit psychologically from social isolation? Particularly I'd be interested in de differences among Western and Eastern Europeans.

Eric said at October 25, 2010 5:57 PM:

I haven't met any woman (or man) who eats as good as I do. I'm almost absolutely certain my diet would go downhill if I got married and she started cooking.

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