Book by Seattle author teaches how to coexist with birds
That boost in longevity is about as large as the mortality difference observed between smokers and nonsmokers, the study's authors say. And it's larger than differences in the risk of death associated with many other well-known lifestyle factors, including lack of exercise and obesity.
The friend effect did not appear to vary by sex or by age, with men and women of all ages and health statuses showing roughly equal benefit. Nor were lonely people unusually susceptible to any one disease in particular. But if it's true that we get by with a little help from our friends, then how, exactly, do our friends do it?
The short answer is that we don't really know yet.
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That may help to explain why doctors, for the most part, have yet to embrace social support as a factor in good health, on par with smoking habits, diet or exercise. Without a good sense of the physiological mechanisms that may link feelings of loneliness, for instance, to biological markers like blood pressure and resting heart rate, it has been easy to dismiss the power of social connections as nothing more than an artifact of the data or, worse, as touchy-feely pseudoscience.
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To be sure, the direct physical evidence of the health benefits of social support is much more preliminary than the population-level association reported by Holt-Lunstad. But the evidence is mounting, says Uchino, who has written widely on the physiological links between social life and health outcomes.
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Uchino did not contribute to the new review in PLoS Medicine , but has collaborated with Holt-Lunstad on other projects and was, once upon a time, also her grad-school adviser. And caring about others may also prompt us to take better care of ourselves.
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