BYU Today

Social Life = Longer Life


Fa10_4011We all know a strong social network can help you get a job or a date or a good deal on insurance or the best buy on milk. But BYU researchers now say that being well connected socially can also help you stay alive.

A higher level of social interaction can raise your chances of survival by 50 percent, report professors Julianne Holt-Lunstad (BS ’94) and Timothy B. Smith (BS ’91) along with former student J. Bradley Layton (BS ’07) in the July 2010 issue of PLoS Medicine.

“Physicians, health professionals, educators, and the public media take risk factors such as smoking, diet, and exercise seriously,” write the scholars. “The data presented here make a compelling case for social relationship factors to be added to that list.”

The researchers analyzed data from nearly 150 previously published studies that tracked both social interaction and health over time (an average of seven and a half years). In those studies, people with better social integration were 50 percent more likely to live through the follow-up periods than more socially isolated people, regardless of health, age, or other factors.

Smith says these findings give indirect support to the family proclamation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Previous research has shown that family relationships (or the lack thereof) contribute more than any other aspect to perceptions of social support,” Smith says. And now social support has been shown to decrease mortality.

Smith also notes that marital status—independent of marital quality—increased odds of survival by 33 percent. “We recognize that the spiritual blessings that accompany close family relationships far outweigh the fact of increased longevity documented in our research. It is just nice to know that strong family relationships indirectly help to maintain physical health, too.”

Boost Your Survival Odds

Early or late, we’ll all get a chance to push daisies in the end. Whether your date with the reaper comes early or late may depend in part on your social relationships. The figures here show how social integration stacks up against healthy habits in terms of how each increases your odds of making everyone wait a bit longer to read your will.

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