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07/24/2015 12:54 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2015

A Healthy Social Life In Your 20s May Be A Key To Longevity

People with poor social connections are at risk for earlier death, study says.

 

How busy your social life is at age 20 -- and how solid the relationships are that you make when you're 30 -- are factors in your well-being later in life, according to research from the University of Rochester.

People with poor social connections are at an increased risk for early death, said Cheryl Carmichael, who conducted the research. "Having few social connections is equivalent to tobacco use, and it's higher than for those who drink excessive amounts of alcohol, or who suffer from obesity," she noted in a press release.

The new 30-year study shows that frequent social interactions in our 20s help us build a tool set to be drawn on later; they help us to figure out who we are, the researchers said. "It's often around this age that we meet people from diverse backgrounds, with opinions and values that are different from our own, and we learn how to best manage those differences," said Carmichael in a press release.

By the time you hit 30, having a high number of social interactions has no psychosocial benefits later on. But, 30-year-olds who reported having quality relationships -- defined as intimate and satisfying -- also reported high levels of well-being at midlife. 

The study also found that socially active 20-year-olds didn't always find quality relationships at age 30, when quality social engagement appears to start having the greatest impact later in life. In other words, you might need to part with those partying ways by the time you are 30.

For the study, Carmichael contacted individuals who, as 20-year old college students in the 1970s, and again ten years later, participated in the Rochester-Interaction Record (RIR) study. Of the 222 original participants, Carmichael was able to follow up with 133, according to the release.

Strong friendships have been well-documented as a contributor to a happier life. Interacting with more people—even casual acquaintances—gives people a sense of belonging and makes them feel happier, a 2014 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found.

Of course, not all friends may be good for your health. People who notice a friend packing some extra pounds might want to steer clear: A study found that when one person reaches "obese" on the scale, the odds that their friends will do the same increase by more than 50 percent. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that obesity is "socially contagious," as it can spread among individuals in close social circles. The likely explanation: A person's idea of what is an appropriate body size is affected by the size of his or her friends.

And here we thought peer pressure ended in high school.

 

 

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