They don’t mean indulging Facebook alone in the dead of night or tweeting up a storm until dawn, but University of North Carolina researchers have determined that social networks — especially those constructed offline — are as important as exercise in maintaining good health. The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, links strong social connections (family, friends and wider community) early and late in life with reduced risk for obesity, high blood pressure and other conditions that negatively affect quality of life — and which can also be triggers for disease.
The research concludes that the larger a person’s social network is the healthier they tend to be — in both young and older age groups. Though isolation in the aged can appear more overtly dangerous, the study shows wide social networks are just as important for health early in life. (In middle age, it’s more about the strength of relationships than the sheer size of a social circle.) UNC Professor Kathleen Mullan Harris says “broad social relationships and social skills” are as important as healthy eating and physical activity in maintaining good health.