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Study: Friends are better for your health than exercise

By , | Posted - Jul 28th, 2010 @ 5:25pm



PROVO -- A new BYU study has found that having close friends and family can improve your odds of survival.

In fact, it finds that not having them is more harmful than not exercising -- even being obese.

We've all known how good it feels to talk a problem through with a friend, or spend time just hanging out. But this new study quantifies these relationships, finding they increase your odds of survival.

The study says people with strong social relationships are 50 percent less likely to die early than people without such support.

Researchers did a sweeping analysis of data from 148 previously published studies that tracked interactions and health for an average of 7-and-a-half years.

"Our relationships provide meaningful roles and a sense of purpose in life that translates to better self care and less risk taking," explains Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an associate professor of psychology at BYU.

She says people are more likely to go to the doctor, exercise, sleep better and take fewer risks when they have others around them who they are close to.

"When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves," says Holt-Lunstad.

In addition, the study found having poor relationships or no social interaction has its own set of harmful effects.

Holt-Lunstad and fellow researcher Timothy Smith compare low social interaction to other risk factors like smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being an alcoholic. They found it was more harmful than not exercising and twice and harmful as obesity.

"We all take things like diet and exercise and smoking seriously, and I think we need to start taking our relationships as seriously," Holt-Lunstad said.

Sisters Noelle Juhl and Robin Molnar may not live in the same state, but that doesn't make them any less close. They talk on the phone every day -- sometimes twice a day.

"It's one of the best parts of my day," Noelle said.

Then there are the more obvious emotional and stress-reducing benefits -- something Noelle and Robin already know.

"It's great knowing she's there," Noelle said. "Things always seem better after I talk to her."

Researchers say their findings apply to people of all ages.

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Story compiled with contributions from Sarah Dallof and Mary Richards.

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