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The Impact of Relationships on Aging, Longevity and Health

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Updated February 28, 2007

Overview:

Relationships are an essential part of health. Isolation and loneliness create responses in the body similar to those of stress. The body does not function as well as when we are connected to other people. Invest time with family and friends not only for happiness, but for physical health too.

Relationships Help Your Immune System:

Researchers recruited a healthy group of nurses under the age 65 and tested their blood's immune function in correlation with their attachment style in the study. Women with an insecure attachment style had lower immune activity and were more prone to some illnesses. While the link between attachment style and immune function is new, insecure relationships can likely reduce the effectiveness of the immune system through increased stress.

Perceived Usefulness to Friends and Families is Important for Health:

The MacArthur Study of Successful Aging asked adults aged 70 to 79 how they rate their own usefulness to family and friends. After 7 years, these same people were examined for mortality and other health data. Researchers learned that people who rated their own usefulness high were less likely to suffer from chronic illness or mortality. These findings held true after gender, health, lifestyle and other factors were considered.

Loneliness and the risk of Alzheimer's disease was studied in 823 senior citizens in Chicago. Each person rated their level of loneliness each year for five years. The higher the loneliness rating, the more likely the person would develop cognitive problems during the study. The loneliest 10 percent were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. All results were controlled for measures of actual social contact. This means that what matters is whether a person feels lonely or not, regardless of what kinds of connections he or she has with other people.

Sources:

Attachment Security and Immunity in Healthy Women; Angelo Picardi, MD, Francesca Battisti, MD, Lorenzo Tarsitani, MD, Maurizio Baldassari, MD, Alfredo Copertaro, MD, Eugenio Mocchegiani, MD and Massimo Biondi, MD; Psychosomatic Medicine 69:40-46 (2007).

Feelings of Usefulness to Others, Disability, and Mortality in Older Adults: The MacArthur Study of Successful Aging; Tara L. Gruenewald, Arun S. Karlamangla, Gail A. Greendale, Burton H. Singer and Teresa E. Seeman; The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 62:P28-P37 (2007).

Loneliness and Risk of Alzheimer Disease; Robert S. Wilson, PhD; Kristin R. Krueger, PhD; Steven E. Arnold, MD; Julie A. Schneider, MD; Jeremiah F. Kelly, MD; Lisa L. Barnes, PhD; Yuxiao Tang, PhD; David A. Bennett, MD; Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007; 64:234-240.

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