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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — If your teen spends most of his or her free time with friends, don't fret: A new study reveals that a healthy social life contributes to overall physical and mental health in adolescence.
The study out of the University of Carolina revealed teens who experience more positive, active social interactions with their peers are healthier in key areas like weight, blood pressure and stress hormone levels than those who keep to themselves.
"It is really what goes on in adolescence that is important for your health," study author Kathleen Mullan Harris told the Today website. "We thought that social relationships would be important in adolescence but … we were surprised to show it was so important."
Researchers gleaned data from several U.S. longitudinal studies that examined social relationships and health over several life stages, including adolescence, young, middle and late adulthood. They then marked and measured potential correlation between social relationships and specific biomarkers like blood pressure, BMI, C-reactive protein and belly fat.
They concluded that overall, "a higher degree of social integration was associated with lower risk of physiological dysregulation in a dose-response manner in both early and later life."
For teens, social isolation contributed to inflammation (often an indicator of chronic levels of stress hormones) to the same degree as physical inactivity. Teens who were more social were also less likely to be obese.
"The theory is the more integrated you are in social networks and the more social support you have … all these would help with coping with stress," said Mullan Harris.
Researchers argue the findings of this study emphasize the importance of healthy relationships in adolescence, and encourage parents to help their teens get involved in activities that provide opportunities to develop and foster those interactions.