Study finds being sociable is good for your health, while loneliness is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
A life of booze, fags and slothfulness may be enough to earn your doctor’s disapproval, but there is one last hope: a repeat prescription of mates and good conversation.
A circle of close friends and strong family ties can boost a person’s health more than exercise, losing weight or quitting cigarettes and alcohol, psychologists say.
Sociable people seem to reap extra rewards from their relationships by feeling less stressed, taking better care of themselves and having less risky lifestyles than those who are more isolated, they claim.
A review of studies into the impact of relationships on health found that people had a 50% better survival rate if they belonged to a wider social group, be it friends, neighbours, relatives or a mix of these.
The striking impact of social connections on wellbeing has led researchers to call on GPs and health officials to take loneliness as seriously as other health risks, such as alcoholism and smoking.
“We take relationships for granted as humans,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University in Utah. “That constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically but directly to our physical health.”
Holt-Lunstad’s team reviewed 148 studies that tracked the social interactions and health of 308,849 people over an average of 7.5 years. From these they worked out how death rates varied depending on how sociable a person was.
Being lonely and isolated was as bad for a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic. It was as harmful as not exercising and twice as bad for the health as being obese. The study is reported in the journal Plos Medicine.
Holt-Lunstad said friends and family can improve health in numerous ways, from help in tough times to finding meaning in life. “When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility to other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks.”
Holt-Lunstad said there was no clear figure on how many relationships are enough to boost a person’s health, but people fared better when they rarely felt lonely and were close to a group of friends, had good family contact and had someone they could rely on and confide in.
Writing in the journal, the authors point out that doctors, health educators and the media take the dangers of smoking, diet and exercise seriously, and urge them to add social relationships to the list.
A report by the Mental Health Foundation in May blamed technology and the pressures of modern life for widespread feelings of loneliness in all age groups across Britain. The survey of more than 2,200 adults found one in 10 people often felt lonely and one in three would like to move closer to their family.
Andrew McCulloch, of the Mental Health Foundation, said the latest study builds on work that links isolation to poor mental and physical health. “Trends such as increasing numbers of people living alone and the advent of new technologies, are changing the way in which we interact and are leading both the young and old to experience loneliness. It is important that individuals and policy-makers take notice of emerging evidence and of the potential health problems associated with loneliness.”
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So, when Bill Clinton wants to take a nervous crap on daughter Chelsea’s wedding day, this is where he’ll do it. You’re looking at the porta-potties the Clintons have rented for the occasion at a grand total of $15,000. It goes without saying that these bathrooms are nicer than mine, not to mention The Frisky’s ladies room, where we recently found a cockroach! However, we do have a stack of gossip mags in ours, so there. [via Gawker]Read more →
Her teenage daughter made Michele Hanson’s life a trial. Now that rebel is a woman on a mission to help some of the world’s poorest children. How did that happen?
Almost 20 years ago I wrote a piece in this newspaper about my 12-year-old daughter, known fondly as Treasure. I was close to despair at the time, because of her ghastly behaviour and my inability to deal with it. Treasure had been a divine baby – never cried, woke up laughing, slept all night, ate up all her dinners. How was I to know that this would happen? No one warns you that your baby might turn into a strange, tempestuous creature; that there would be rows, screeching, fibs and rebellion, flouncing, sneering? It was no fun to face complaints, disapproval and pity from parents who seemed to have done rather better than me. I would often sit alone, quietly blubbing, wondering where I’d gone wrong. And worrying. What would become of Treasure, if she carried on like this?
Then a particular difficulty cropped up – her clothes. We were off on our summer holiday to a Greek island, and I’d promised to buy her a summer dress when we got there. I imagined one of those darling little embroidered, floaty, demure, cheesecloth girls’ frocks that I thought were all the rage in 1990, but Treasure didn’t fancy one at all. She went straight for a skin-tight, striped, low-necked, bum-length Lycra number, tried it on and asked, “D’you like it?”
I hesitated for a nano-second, and Treasure guessed. “You hate it,” she wept. “You think I look horrid!”
I didn’t, but what was I meant to say? That the world was packed with dangerous men? What does one say to a 12-year-old to warn but not frighten her? So I said, “It looks a bit too grown-up.” Silly me. That’s just what she wanted. To look like Madonna. So we bought the dress, and from then on, the skin-tight, worm-style was her dress of choice.
So I wrote about the clothes problem. Anonymously. Then about other problems, because the editor of the Women’s page asked me to, and there were plenty of them. Treasure wouldn’t do her homework, was staggeringly insolent, fibbed about where she was going and with whom, and was born to spend. She was a fountain of pocket money and I was the source of her wealth. But to her I was also the most ill-dressed and loathsome mother on the planet. And this behaviour was all my fault. How could it not be? I was her mother, I had let this happen. And if I ever doubted it, other people didn’t.
“Why do you allow her to speak to you like that?” was a favourite question. Allow? And there was loads of advice. My fault again, because being a blabbermouth, I told everyone everything and begged for advice. So I got it: set boundaries, you are making a rod for your own back (my mother’s favourite), be consistent, harden your heart. Easier said than done. Treasure was highly articulate, charming, persuasive, determined, fearless, bossy, relentless and argued like a terrier with a rat. So for us the teenage years were stormy and exhausting. The dress was only the beginning. There was much worse to come: smoking, clubbing, Glastonbury, drugs, raves, boys, sex, tattoos, piercings, exams, unsuitable friends, the boyfriend who murdered the goldfish, the screaming, the door-slamming, the distressed neighbours and the poor dog hiding under the table.
Writing about it at least showed we were not alone. I met normal people in stable relationships with their own Treasures. But it didn’t stop me worrying. This is something else no one warns you about – that once you have a child, you are never free of anxiety. The world is a dangerous place anyway, and Treasure was adding more dangers. How would she ever hold down a job if she couldn’t even get to school, two minutes away, on time? Would she even live long enough to make the workplace? Would skin-cancer from sunbeds/lung cancer from smoking/drug-induced psychosis get her first? Would she have a reasonably happy life, or had I made hash of it for her?
But now, 20 years on, her life seems to be going rather well. Treasure turned things around, and all the traits that were a pain in the bottom two decades ago have become assets in the work she does now: raising money for a charity she has set up herself, called Small Steps, which aims to provide shoes, food, clothes and medical care for children working on the world’s giant rubbish tips.
There were the occasional hints that she might end up doing something like this. In the early Treasure-writing days, I reported on one of our Christmas shopping trips. We were battling our way along the hell of Oxford Street, usually Treasure’s favourite place to be, when she spotted an elderly beggar outside Selfridges. He looked very like her Grandpa, but an older, raggedy version. He was holding a few boxes of matches in his trembly fingers and looked utterly wretched. Treasure gave him all her remaining pocket money, but her outing was ruined. She had suddenly realised that the world was grossly unfair. We pressed on into Marks & Spencer, but all she could see was capitalist greed.
She grew up and became a journalist, interviewing celebrities in ritzy nightclubs, but soon sickened of the endless blabbering about clothes, and decided to go travelling. She followed the usual hippy trail – Goa, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, and ended up doing voluntary work in Sihanoukville in Cambodia, teaching and looking after children with HIV/Aids in an orphanage. Sadly, they were some of the luckier ones.
Hundreds of less fortunate children, aged from three upwards, lived on the 100-acre Stung Meanchey rubbish tip on the edge of Phnom Penh. She went to have a look. The dump was burning hot, a mountain of steaming garbage, littered with needles, broken glass, fly-blown animal carcasses. Children lived and worked there, scrabbling about for anything that could be recycled, earning the equivalent of a dollar a day, drinking from fetid pools; and their feet were scarred, burnt and infected.
Treasure came back to England determined to raise money, borrow a camera and go back to Stung Meanchey; to buy boots and other necessities for the children on the tip, film them, and tell the world. But how? She knew nothing about film-making, or money-raising. Luckily she had all the necessary skills – the ones that had driven me round the bend all those years ago. The relentlessness and persuasiveness that she had used to extract pocket money, she now used to raise funds. The bossiness turned into assertiveness, and was perfect for directing a film.
During her years as a journalist she had becomed skilled at getting free gifts for editors and celebrities, who had too much already. Why not get free things for people who had nothing? So as part of the project she is asking every celebrity she has ever met or interviewed to donate a pair of boots or shoes to auction on her website, pointing out that one £500 pair of Louboutins equals 250 pairs of boots for children with no shoes at all.
At the airport we had a tense little Treasure-type squabble, me being anxious and her being super-stressed – because some things never change. But she did it all: bought the boots, gave them out, made her documentary, Small Steps, and screened it. Heaven knows how she managed it, but I’m very proud of her. Now she’s back home again, safe. For a while. Next she’s off to a rubbish mountain in Nicaragua, then several more. She’s called her project Around The World in 80 Dumps.
I am fairly terrified, but I wish her luck. It all goes to show that you never can tell how a Treasure will turn out. It could be better than you expected. If yours is sulky, offensive, dope-smoking, raving, fibbing, binge-drinking, expelled from school, needs collecting from the police station occasionally, he or she may well survive it all. Treasure has. So for those of you who have one, don’t give up hope. Hang on in there. Only 20 years to go . . .
Small Steps is showing at Camp Bestival in Dorset on 31 July and Hampstead Town Hall (www.interchange.org.uk) on 3 August
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When I first went to 4chan.org, I didn’t know what the heck was going on. It’s a pretty plain-looking site with long lists of random topics that users can click on. However, once I unlocked the secrets of this site, I realized that it’s basically like an internet army. It’s turned into a place where people suggest pranks and get lots of others to participate. The peeps on this site make rumors so widespread that people think they’re true, they rig person-of-the-year contests and are even the ones behind Rickrolling, an internet bait-and-switch where users are tricked into clicking on a link that looks relevant—say, a trailer for “Grand Theft Auto IV”—only to find the music video for “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. After the jump, some other famous 4chan hijinx—some funny, others not so much.Read more →
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Born: February 11, 1992 in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Sun Sign: Aquarius
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