A recent study conducted by researchers in Scotland highlights a concerning connection between limited time with family and friends and a higher risk of dying. The research sheds light on the significant impact that social connections can have on our lifespan.
The issue of social isolation has become especially prominent ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the importance of personal interactions in maintaining health.
Social connection goes beyond simply having a lot of friends on social media or being present at social gatherings. It involves an intricate mix of interaction frequency– or the “structural” element, such as how frequently we meet people– and the emotional quality of these interactions, or the “functional” aspect.
Remarkably, each of these aspects individually affects our likelihood of heart disease and death.
The research team analyzed data from 458,146 adults enrolled in the UK Biobank. These participants, who had an average age of 56.5, joined the study between 2006 and 2010.
At the beginning of their involvement, they completed an extensive questionnaire that delved into five crucial areas of social interaction. This included subjective experiences such as feelings of loneliness and the capacity to share confidences, along with more concrete factors like how often they received visits from loved ones, their involvement in group activities on a weekly basis, and whether or not they lived by themselves.
The study tracked these participants for more than 12 years, a period in which 33,135 of them died. It revealed a distinct link between all five forms of social interactions and the risk of death from any cause.
Particularly striking was the finding that the lack of physical social interactions, such as visits from family and friends, had a greater influence on the risk of mortality compared to feelings of isolation or loneliness.
The research identified a notable 39% rise in mortality risk for individuals who never had visits from friends or family. Furthermore, the researchers noted that participating in weekly group activities offered little benefit to those who were entirely cut off from family visits.