Health In Focus
  • Study finds that quality of relationship with family lowers risk of death.
  • The more the number of people the individual feels close with, the lower the risk of death.
  • Relationship with friends was not found to lower risk of death.

Social relationships are essential to maintain good mental health especially among individuals who are suffering from a physical ailment. Many studies have shown how people with low levels of social interaction die a lot sooner than people who share good meaningful relationships.

A study by scientists Berkman and Syme showed that the risk of death among people with fewer social ties was twice as likely as people with considerable number of social ties. In a review article by Debra Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez titled "Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy" published in the Journal of Health Social Behaviour, describes the physical effects of fewer social relationships.
Being Close With Family Lowers Death Risk
Being Close With Family Lowers Death Risk

Low Quantity or Quality of Social Relationships

Poor or low quality social relationships can lead to
  • Cardiovascular disease development or progression
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Myocardial infarction/heart attack
  • Delayed recovery from cancer
  • Slower wound healing
  • Inflammatory biomarkers
  • Impairment of immune response

Relationships Benefit Health

Here are some facts pertaining to relationship and health of an individual.
  • Social ties associated with overall positive health
  • The social ties like marriage, parenting, association with religious organizations have been found to exert an influence or control over the behavior and habits of an individual.
  • They instill a sense of responsibility and encourage responsible behavior.
  • They provide information about prospective treatment measures or ways to control the disease/infection.
  • When there is emotional support during childhood it boosts
  • Immune system
  • Regulatory system
  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis
  • When there is social support during adulthood it can lead to
  • Reduced cardiovascular responses that occur during unexpected or existing stressors.
  • The psychosocial support extended by marriage lowers cardiovascular disease risk.
While it has been known for a long time now that the right kind of support extended towards patients will aid in improving the health of the individual, a new study by Dr James Iveniuk and colleagues has shown that family members and not friends are the ones who reduce the risk of mortality.

"We found that older individuals who had more family in their network, as well as older people who were closer with their family were less likely to die. No such associations were observed for number of or closeness to friends," says Dr James Iveniuk who is a researcher at Dalla Lana School of Public Health of University of Toronto.

Mortality Rates

The study utilized data from National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP) using nationally representative information obtained during the initial wave which was in 2005-2006 and a second wave which was in 2010-2011. The individuals who were between the age group 57 to 85 years old were assessed during the second wave and mortality rates determined.

During the first wave of the survey, the participants in the age range were asked to list 5 people they were close to and what relationship they shared with them. They were also asked how close they felt with them.

Results of the Study:

The study found that
  • Each individual had 2.91 individuals with whom they shared a close bond.
  • Apart from a spouse, the more number of relatives that the individual felt close with, the lower the risk of death.
  • When the participants felt they were extremely close to the family members they had listed other than their spouse, there was a 6% risk of death within the next 5 years.
  • When the participants felt they were not so close to the family members they had listed other than their spouse, there was a 14% risk of death within the next 5 years.
"Regardless of the emotional content of a connection, simply having a social relationship with another person may have benefits for longevity. Because you can choose your friends, you might, therefore, expect that relationships with friends would be more important for mortality, since you might be better able to customize your friend network to meet your specific needs. But that account isn't supported by the data - it is the people who in some sense you cannot choose, and who also have little choice about choosing you, who seem to provide the greatest benefit to longevity."

Characteristics of Social Support

The study not only looked into the effect of relationships when compared with friends that aided in lowering mortality but also looked at aspects of social relationships which played a role.
  • Marriage
  • Feeling close to people who they consider their confidante
  • More involvement in social organizations
  • Knowing a large number of people
There were certain characteristics that were of lower relevance and they included
  • Access to social support
  • The amount of time spent with confidantes
  • Loneliness
The highlight of the study was that marriage in itself contributed to increased longevity , irrespective of the quality of the marriage. Adds Dr Iveniuk "We observed no association between measures of support from the spouse and mortality, indicating that the presence of a marital bond may be more important for longevity than certain aspects of the bond itself. Going back to the very first sociological theorists, many different thinkers have noted that there is some kind of special significance that people attribute to family ties, leading people to stay close to and support people who wouldn't necessarily be individuals that they would associate with if they had the choice."

This study is an important source of support for people who are dependent on family members for physical and emotional during periods of illness. It stresses on the need to focus on relationships that we are born into or bonded into through marriage rather than on friendships for longevity.

References :
  1. Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy - (
  2. Relationships with Family Members, but Not Friends, Decrease Likelihood of Death - (

Source: Medindia

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