The social ties that bind…life

Posted by on Aug 6, 2010 in emotions, women's health | 0 comments

[Henri Matisse, Dance II, Late Summer 1909]

Research has shown that social support networks are essential to our overall mood and well-being, especially as we age. Now, it appears that social support, i.e. relationships whether it comes from friends, partners or other family members, can actually prolong our lives.In fact, researchers who analyzed 148 studies in over 300,000 men and women say that  people with strong social relationships are as much as 50% likelier to survive than individuals without them or whose relationships are poor. Moreover, having good social relationships may be as beneficial as quitting smoking, while bad relationships can more harmful than being obese or sedentary.

While these findings certainly don’t mean that poor habits and risky behavior can be wiped out by having strong relationships, they do imply that social support is critical to more than our mental health. Still, the researchers say that over the past 20 years, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of Americans who report having no confidant and that globally, people are actually becoming more isolated. This runs counter to the proposition that social networks á la the web foster stronger social connections. Although this may be true for the some individuals, it isn’t for others and the quality of these online relationships appear to have quite an impact on our health.

So, what is social support exactly?

Social support is actually multifaceted and highly individual. It deals with how we perceive the support we receive, be it emotional, informational, tangible or intangible (such as a sense of belonging), the size of our networks and how they are defined (e.g. marital or intimate relationship status, number of social contacts,  degree of active engagement in activities or relationships, and whether or not we live or alone or with others) as well as an integration of the two. People who were able to successfully integrate the two were actually shown to have a 91% increased likelihood for surviving longer.

One of the most striking things about this report is the fact that the researchers believe that the estimates on the benefits of the social relationships in terms of having a longer life may be conservative. However, they do caution that many of the data they looked at did not account for the quality of the relationships, an important and risky variable.

The bottom line, it seems, is something that women have known all along: strong, quality friendships are critical to our emotional health and well-being. However, we’ve not been able to link that to lengthier survival…until now. As always, keep it real, go for quality not quantity and keep sowing those seeds. Who knew that the social ties that bind us are truly life?

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