Social relationships and the risk of dying

The Introductionswim socialising

Hopefully this series of articles isn’t suggesting I’m becoming morbid with the focus on the risk of death! It’s just that a number of interesting review papers I have read lately are strongly suggesting the need for older people to stay socially engaged to help with overall health. My sporting life in masters swimming, veteran cycling and running and triathlon clubs over the years has taught me how much fun, fitness and friendship comes from the interactions in these clubs. What’s interesting is that this research is suggesting that those that stay socially engaged not only have a better quality of life but are more likely to live longer too.

The Research

This review was conducted to determine the extent to which social relationships influence the risk of dying, which aspects of social relationships are most highly predictive of dying, and which factors may reduce the risk.  The meta-analysis (a statistical analysis of all the studies conducted on a specific topic) examined 148 studies (308,849 participants) that had researched the effects of social interaction and engagement of people on their risk of death. Data were extracted on several participant characteristics, including cause of death, initial health status and pre-existing health conditions, as well as on each study’s characteristics, including length of follow-up and type of assessment of social relationships.

The Results

The results showed a 50% increased likelihood of survival for participants with stronger social relationships. This finding remained consistent across age, gender, initial health status, cause of death, and follow-up period. The association was strongest for complex measures of social integration (married, living with others, having social networks) (191% more likely to survive) and lowest for indicators of residential status (living alone versus with others) (119%). Marriage ensured a 133% increased likelihood of survival.

The So What?

Yet another strong argument for staying involved with masters sport through masters clubs, sport or other clubs that encourage older participants, socialising with friends, volunteer work or just staying involved in life!

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T.B. and Layton,  J.B. (2010) Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS Med. 7(7): e1000316. 

Photo from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/george_eastman_house/3122872045/