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July 27th, 2010
05:05 PM ET

Social relationships key to survival, study says

Having satisfying social relationships may be about as important as not smoking when it comes to your lifespan, a new study suggests.

It turns out that people with adequate social relationships have a 50 percent greater likelihood of survival than people who have poor or insufficient relationships. That means that having good relationships is comparable to quitting smoking in terms of survival benefit, and is a stronger factor than obesity and physical activity.

Researchers from Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at 148 different studies that examined the connection between survival and relationships. Regardless of age, sex, initial health status, cause of death, and follow-up period in the individual studies, the new analysis finds that those with stronger relationships have an increased likelihood of survival.

This principle of social relationships aiding survival has even been seen in babies, the study noted. In the mid-20th century, infants in orphanages were observed to have high mortality rates predicted by lack of human contact. Death rates in these settings substantially decreased with changes in practice and policy to promote social interaction.

One theory behind these results is that social relationships may buffer the negative effects of stressors on health, such as illness and transitions and changes in life. Social relationships may also promote healthy behaviors, in the sense that people may directly encourage each other's good habits or indirectly provide good models.

"In addition, being part of a social network gives individuals meaningful roles that provide esteem and purpose to life," the authors wrote.

As seen in the research of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, positive attributes such as happiness spread in social networks, as well as negative behaviors such as smoking and obesity. But they also found that people who dropped their friends who gained weight were more susceptible to obesity themselves.

The study on social relationships and mortality appears in the journal PLoS Medicine.


soundoff (136 Responses)
  1. OLD

    This is really old news.

    July 28, 2010 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Survivor

    Good question...survival of what? Survival past the age of ...? Survival until the next ice age?
    5th grade text, and no real info. My study of people over the years yielded the same conclusion.

    July 28, 2010 at 16:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. FBT

    Satisfying relationships decrease stress, which is what increases the lifespan. Which doesn't mean the constrast is true. If you replace the relationships with something else healthy (physical, mental, emotional or spiritual) you'll have the same increase in lifespan. If you replace the relationships with something that's not healthy (bitterness, excess chemical use, general misanthropic behavior), you'll have a shorter lifespan.

    July 28, 2010 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Holden Mecoc

    I wonder how much backstabbing by friends shortens your life.

    July 28, 2010 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Survivor

    This just in....New study shows most studies worthless, except for creating a forum for masters thesis and worthless blogs

    July 28, 2010 at 16:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jess

    Well, no shit you live longer if you are happier. I think studies also need to be done on the amount vs quality you have with the social relationships you have.

    July 28, 2010 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. D

    I like people in small doses. But, my last relationship ended abruptly. I really gave it a try and gave more than I could give. I really cared for him. He was being disrepectful, to me, again, one evening and I shut a car door in his face and said see ya. I feel sorry for the poor sap who takes his bait. Sometimes, though, I blame myself. Crazy huh?

    July 28, 2010 at 16:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Yokey Dokey

    Well, that's a meaningless article. 50% chance of surviving WHAT? We're ALL going to die – every last dadgum one of us. Stupid. Re-write the article, for crying out loud.

    July 28, 2010 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Leila

    Relationships and friendships relieve the stress. Stress ultimately shortens a person's lifespan. Hence, relationships lengthen lifespans. Wow...This study really opened my eyes on life.
    How many useless studies are they going to spend the money on? Get serious. Find the cure for cancer or AIDS or any other life threatening disease. It is a bloody shame to waste money on this "research".

    July 28, 2010 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Tim59

    It's always been my understanding that ultimately everyone has a zero chance of survival. 50% greater than zero is still zero.

    July 28, 2010 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. HVNCDY

    I had very close friends in my 20's and as time past we grew apart. Now in my 40's, I find it very difficult to [want to] get to know people and make friends (or I just have not met interesting people lately). I don't have the time or energy to make friends and I certainly don't FB or tweet or blog. Maybe that is why I find people so boring these days - they are connected and I am not. I prefer making friends the old fashion way, you start with a smile.

    July 28, 2010 at 17:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Edrick

    Getting laid= longer life. All you social losers, get out meet people and get some!

    July 28, 2010 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. a1

    Humans are Social Animals!

    July 28, 2010 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. VespaMan

    ......oh yes, let me increase my social network of bums, so I can live longer, so I can increase my social network of bums, so I can live longer, so I can increase my social network of bums, so I can......

    July 28, 2010 at 17:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Darin

    Marriage, like all relationships, doesnn't make your life longer.... It just seems longer due to the inexorable pain relationships put us through.

    July 28, 2010 at 17:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • D

      agreed. no thank you.

      July 28, 2010 at 18:40 | Report abuse |
  16. Dave

    People with pets live longer. People with friends live longer. For people without either – maybe it just seems longer.

    Does anyone else think Dr. Sanjay Gupta needs to go out and treat patients? He can still retain, if he wants, his public relations consultant.

    July 28, 2010 at 17:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. character

    leila you tell them again and again,am 85 and lived under stress my whole life,first you find out what minerals and vitamins your body needs, work off that stress wih a massage, get a cat, dog ,some fish,just to keep you busy all day,and to get mad at once in awhile,if you dont have a man.

    July 28, 2010 at 17:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. StrayHound

    So I'm guessing the women in the pic are two hundred years old.

    July 28, 2010 at 18:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Teekrul

    Honestly... The more friends you have the more likely not to survive a Zombie attack... Oh yes it could happen.. Maybe not the undead flesh eating kind but the Biological Warfare aftermath kind..

    July 28, 2010 at 18:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Fredo

      wow dude, zombies? biological warfare? you must be christian or something to live your life sitting there waiting for something like the happen. If it happens you are dead anyways so stop worrying about that.

      July 28, 2010 at 18:22 | Report abuse |
  20. Fredo

    A clear sign of anti social behavior is when you have guns laying around the house and you live scared you are going to be robbed at all times. Or if you spend your days playing video games, chatting on the net, talking on the phone and tweeting all day. All these are stresses in your life that promote poor hygiene, lack of self respect, depression, anger, racism, republicanism and eventually an early death or suicide unless you are rich, than you can escape in your yacht and detox.

    July 28, 2010 at 18:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Teekrul

    uhm... lol no ACTUALLY agnostic and I was poking fun that the people who will take every little thing serious. Hence those like you. However, on your follow up comment. I play plenty of video games & chat on the net. I'm a very happy father that's happy with his family and himself. Believes in karma and spends more then enough time enjoying the outdoors. Stating that something is a "Clear Sign" for certain behaviors is about as ridiculous as believing zombies will attack.

    July 28, 2010 at 18:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. PAPilot

    100% of people eventually die. The only difference is how many years are spent crapping into a diaper and drooling. I plan to do neither, as I will no doubt die a violent yet expedient death doing something I love.

    July 28, 2010 at 18:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Eddie

    Key to survival is to keep Gods commands;

    Proverbs 3
    My son, do not forget my law,
    But let your heart keep my commands;
    2 For length of days and long life
    And peace they will add to you.
    7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    Fear the LORD and depart from evil.
    8 It will be health to your flesh,
    And strength to your bones.

    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
    But fools despise wisdom and instruction.

    13 Happy is the man who finds wisdom,
    And the man who gains understanding;
    14 For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver,
    And her gain than fine gold.
    15 She is more precious than rubies,
    And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.
    16 Length of days is in her right hand,
    In her left hand riches and honor.
    17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
    And all her paths are peace.
    18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her,
    And happy are all who retain her.

    July 28, 2010 at 19:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. PAPilot

    Key to survival is knowing how to feed and shelter yourself, and how to avoid getting fooled by a huge cult.

    July 28, 2010 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Survivorman

    My 3 Ex's are a testament to my instinct for survival....

    July 28, 2010 at 21:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. ApeHanger

    Since I greatly scaled back on my "social relationships" I feel healthier, stronger, more focused and better able to withstand the vicissitudes of life. That's because other people created most of the stress I experienced. Not interacting with those people has eliminated a lot of stress from my life, especially the stress that comes from trying to accommodate women who haven't a clue as to what they want.

    July 28, 2010 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Monica Gee

    What is sad, is in this generation, people are less and less connected and relationships are sadly, disposable. Fewer marry and those who co-habitate usually break up within two years. Children spend less time with their parents and half of them grow up without a father. Half the people in apartment buildings are living alone. I don't think we should worry about the obesity epidemic nearly as much as we should worry about the plague of social isolation that is fast gaining an icy hold.

    July 29, 2010 at 02:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Joe L

    Fishing and beer make ME live longer. Nagging and taking 45 minutes to dress yourself cut years off my life. Take your relationship industry and keep it. American women are the nastiest women on the planet, anyway. Entitled, self-centered and material-driven. Go ask a foreign man if he wants your sister...watch him run!

    July 29, 2010 at 05:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • EnoughBS

      Ignoramus...my brother married a Japanese woman thinking he was going to get a nice little demure obedient wife.
      HA! What a surprise. She was as material as they come, twice as tough, and judgement. My other brother married a Puerto Rican and got the same. Its not the nationality of the woman, just the kind you keep hanging out with!

      July 29, 2010 at 14:30 | Report abuse |
  29. Mooseknuckle

    If nothing else gets you, the Grue will

    July 29, 2010 at 09:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Gary Brodkin

    Would like to be able to EMAIL this article to others.
    Why can't I on you Share mode ?

    July 29, 2010 at 11:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Chuck

    How about when it consumes your significant other to the point they are caring about everyone elses life and missing out on the life she has with her husband & kids??>??

    July 29, 2010 at 15:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Michael

    This article is so poorly written it's meaningless. It doesn't define survival. 50% greater rate of survival – what does that mean? None of us is going to survive this life and be here to tell about it in 200 years. Survive what? A grizzly bear attack? Your 60s? Your 80s?

    There are all sorts of survival rates. The 5-year survival rate after cancer is a common metric. Lifespan is a pretty commonly used concept – do people with social networks above a certain size live a year longer, 5 years longer?

    I'm sure the original study defines it quite clearly, but Ms Landau didn't bother to read it or didn't want to take the trouble to explain it.

    July 29, 2010 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.