Why Your Relationships Do More For Your Health Than Diet And Exercise

Your new squad goals.

by Jillian Rose Lim

If you’re more interested in cracking your kid up with dad jokes, ignoring stereotypes about how parenting and sex don’t mix, or finding time to get beers with your similarly time-starved friends than banishing your dadbod or preparing a delicious meal of leafy greens, go ahead and toast to your own good health. A new study from the University of North Carolina finds that your relationships — both their breadth and their depth — are just as important as diet and exercise over your lifetime.

The findings come from 4 huge longitudinal surveys of more than 14,000 people that measured the size and quality of every individual’s social network — the actual one, not the one on your Facebook app — along with physiological markers of daily stress. Turns out, marital status, the number of friends (again, actual ones), community participation, and the overall quality of all these relationships have a dramatic effect on blood pressure, body mass index, waist thickness, and inflammation. Socially isolated adolescents are just as inflamed as those who don’t exercise; hermit seniors have a higher risk of hypertension than those with diabetes, and middle-aged adults with poor social ties are more likely to be obese than those who don’t eat well or exercise.

The best part is, it doesn’t even matter if your number of friends has dwindled since becoming a father. The size of your crew helps your health most as a teen, but it’s the quality of your individual relationships that matter more between the ages of 30 and 50. None of this is too surprising, given that loneliness has already been linked to poor health and social intimacy is known to reduce stress hormones.

So ditch the deadlifting and detoxing and go hang out with your friends and family — how’s that for a New Year’s resolution?