Your Relationships Can Be as Important to Your Health as Exercise and Diets

Put down the kale. Step away from your paleo seeds, nuts and legumes. Unlace your spanking new pair of running shoes.

If you really want to be healthy, your New Year’s resolution should be hanging out with your besties more.

A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found that your relationships are as important to your health as diet and exercise. And to take that one step further, the size and quality of a person’s social ties specifically can affect your health at different points in your life.

Researchers found that adolescents who faced social isolation were as much at risk for developing inflammation as those who do not exercise.

They also found that those with a higher social strain had increased odds of abdominal obesity and inflammation during early to mid-adulthood, and an even higher risk of overall obesity among those who were slightly older.

It’s not entirely ground-breaking, we’ll concede. We’ve known for a while that there are links between social relationships and good health, just as we know that the reverse is true – loneliness can be just as detrimental to our health as smoking and obesity.

But what’s interesting about this study is that it goes beyond this to ask how friends affect health, the timing of the effects, and how long they last.

And while it may be important in our youth to have a large support network around us, we’ll need to make sure that it’s quality over quantity upon reaching our mid-adulthood (mid-30s to 50s)

The study suggested that having a large social network was actually more important than having high quality relationships at either ends of the spectrum – during adolescence and old age.

But by the time you reach mid-30s, the kind of relationships start to matter more. At this point it becomes necessary to ask what these ties mean in your life, and if they are a source of comfort or stress.

So while it’s fine for our social groups to be numerous and diverse right now, we may want to start scoping out good friends to keep well into 30s and beyond.

“Have a good and healthy diet, and exercise, but also try to have a good social life and connections with other people,” Yang Claire Yang, the study’s first author, said. “Cultivate broad and somewhat deep, functional [relationships]. That’s as important, if not more — and don’t wait until you’re old.”

That bitchy friend you’ve known forever might be a great drinking pal circa right now, but you should probably start phasing her out in a couple of years – purely for health reasons, of course.