According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, social networks are as important as diets and exercise in regards to health. This not only limited to psychological health, it also affects our general well-being as well.
This in not entirely surprising if one would take into account the fact that humans are extremely social animals that thrive in groups but suffer when isolated. The concept of a social network does not refer only to online interactions, with real life social connections holding a higher degree of importance. But this can slightly differ from individual to individual.
The study in question encompassed four surveys made on the US populations while in their early adult life, as well as the later stages. The highest health impact of socialization was present during adolescence, with subjects that were more easily integrated into groups presenting lower blood pressure and a much lower degree of inflammation in comparison to those that were somewhat isolated.
Social support and social strain are two of the most important factors that affect health, due to the fact that both of them directly alter the stress levels of the patients. Having a higher amount of stress leads to a higher risk of developing health-threatening diseases. The main health elements studied were waist circumference, body-mass index, blood pressure and the levels of C-reactive protein that is linked to systemic inflammation.
The difference between quality and quantity in regards to social interactions differ throughout a person’s life. During early and late stages, the larger the size of the social network, the more benefits the subjects gain over the course of these time periods. During the middle stages, quality overthrows quantity, focusing more on social strain and support.
Although some people may say that they thrive while being alone or isolated, sticking to their comfort zone instead of attempting to create social links with their peers, the majority of people thrives while in large social groups, be they on campus or simply on Facebook or other social media. The effects of these types of interactions have already been extensively documented upon from the point of view of psychological impact.
In addition, the saying that “Everything is better with friends” remains as viable as ever. Bu the health benefits gained from social interactions differ according to the group as well. For instance, if you are part of a group that enjoys having an unhealthy lifestyle, your health will shift accordingly.
One must also take into account that this study does not in any way mean that one should force the creation of social links if they do not enjoy having these types of interactions. This study is still based on correlation, not causation, with effects that differ from individual to individual.
Even if social networks are as important as diets and exercise in regards to health, one must not eliminate the other two if they, for instance, are part of a large group of friends. Having a healthy lifestyle, from every side of the spectrum, be it social or health-related, leads to a prolonged life-span as well as a much happier life.