When it comes to longevity, much of the focus has been on the foods you eat and the best types of exercise. For good reason too – regular exercise and eating well can slash your risk of chronic disease, namely heart disease, which claims millions of lives each year. However, there are other lifestyle habits that contribute to longevity and research suggests they should not be overlooked.
Specifically, the researchers sought to determine the extent to which social relationships influence risk for mortality, which aspects of social relationships are most highly predictive, and which factors may moderate the risk.
Data were extracted on several participant characteristics, including cause of mortality, initial health status, and pre-existing health conditions, as well as on study characteristics, including length of follow-up and type of assessment of social relationships.
Drawing on 148 studies, the researchers put a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival for participants with stronger social relationships.
This finding remained consistent across age, sex, initial health status, cause of death, and follow-up period.
Significant differences were found across the type of social dynamic evaluated.
For example, the association was strongest for complex measures of social integration.
In contrast, the outcomes were poorest for those living alone.
The result is not entirely surprising.
Although it’s hard to measure social isolation and loneliness precisely, there is strong evidence that many adults aged 50 and older are socially isolated or lonely in ways that put their health at risk.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cite a number of studies found that tie social isolation to poorer health outcomes.
In one study, social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
In another, social isolation was associated with about a 50 percent increased risk of dementia.
What’s more, poor social relationships (characterised by social isolation or loneliness) was associated with a 29 percent increased risk of heart disease and a 32 percent increased risk of stroke.
Other evidence suggests loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Furthermore, loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly four times increased risk of death, 68 percent increased risk of hospitalisation, and 57 percent increased risk of emergency department visits in one study.
“Your doctor can assess your risk for loneliness and social isolation and get you connected to community resources for help, if needed,” notes the CDC.