Why your friends are as important as quitting smoking

Lemur Kata

Most people associate the word “stress” with traffic jams, long lines, delayed flights, and other fairly obvious problems.  Sure, how you interpret these situations can produce all sorts of mental anguish and health issues but there are other, more subtle forms of stress that also damage your health.  One of the most common and underrated is being lonely.

Being alone for some is different than feeling lonely, however they are often related.  Being alone AND lonely decreases your health and may lead to an early death.

Studies have shown that patients who have been hospitalized for heart failure are far more likely to die without social support and friendship. There is even more evidence showing that social isolation is also a major predictor of early death in healthy people.

In fact, “lack of social support has been found to predict all causes of mortality in population studies,” writes Kristina Orth-Gomer, one of the lead authors of a 1993 study on Swedish men. It was designed to measure the connection between social support and coronary heart disease.  The study accounted for many variables, and looked at both connections with close friends and family (“attachment”), and with co-workers and less familiar friends (“social integration”).  After tracking the health of over 1,000 people for six years, the researchers found that:

smoking and lack of social support were the two leading risk factors for CHD in these middle-aged men.

Social interaction was linked with almost as many deaths as smoking.  This was an observational study, because it is not realistic to randomize people into two groups and give them different “doses” of happiness. This is the best available evidence.

After the first study, some of the researchers questioned the results.  So, in 2004, the researchers conducted a follow-up study to the previous one. They found that men with the lowest social interaction had a 66 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease than those with the highest levels of social interaction.

The people with the lowest amount of social support had more than twice the risk of heart disease than those with the most social support.

“In this prospective study of men, we found two dimensions of low social support—low social integration and low emotional attachment—to be predictive of coronary morbidity, independently of other risk factors.”

In other words, being a loner was associated with a much higher risk of heart disease, no matter how you looked at the data.  These results have been confirmed in several other studies.

A Finish study  in 1988 tracked the connection between social support and heart disease.  After analyzing over 13 thousand men and women and adjusting for confounding factors, they found a linear correlation between lack of social support and risk of heart disease.  The more socially isolated the people were, the more likely they were to die of heart disease.

One of the largest studies examining the link between heart disease and social interaction occurred 8 years later in the U.S.  The researchers looked at 32,624 males aged 42-77 who were free of heart disease, stroke and cancer at the beginning of the study.  At the end of the study, the men with the lowest amount of social connection had the highest death rate of almost every disease.

“Compared with men with the highest level of social networks, socially isolated men (not married, fewer than six friends or relatives, no membership in church or community groups) were at increased risk for cardiovascular disease mortality … deaths from accidents and suicides… increased risk of stroke incidence,” wrote the lead author.

Just as obvious forms of stress can damage your health, so too can more subtle forms like social isolation.  Not having some form of social connection increases your chances of dying.  If you want to live as long as possible, spend more time with those you love and enjoy being around.  How many friends do you have?  How much time do you spend with them?  If the answer is “none” and “none”, you may want to make some changes for both your health and those you care about.

When you focus on your health and business as much as I, and many other biohackers do, it’s easy to neglect your relationships.  In the words of Charles Caleb Colton “True friendship is like sound health; the value of it is seldom known until it be lost.”  For your own health, and that of your loved ones, make time, these connections are important. Studies have repeatedly shown that those with the lowest number of social interactions live the shortest lives, so if you want to be Bulletproof, nourish your friendships and spend quality time with your family.

What qualities do you look for in a friend?  What makes you a good friend?  What is your favorite thing to do with friends?




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