Harvard scientists find eight surprising social factors that raise your risk of an early death – including living in an unclean neighborhood, not seeing your children or being disrespected
Your friends and family not spending enough time with you is not only annoying, but could also shorten your lifespan.
A joint research team from Harvard University, Mass General Hospital and the University of California, San Francisco, found eight key factors that can predict how much time left a person has to live.
These included loneliness and not seeing children on the one hand, as well as living in a dirty neighborhood or feeling like you are being treated with less respect by others.
Researchers point out that while many look just at medical factors, social health can also play a key role in longevity.
They warned that loneliness was reducing lifespan because it was linked to higher levels of stress, which raise the risk of many chronic diseases. Others were linked to trouble accessing good healthcare and a balanced diet.
Shown above are the eight factors that scientists said could predict a shorter life. These were being lonely (1), living in an area with dirty streets (2), having little control over your finances (3), meeting children less than once a year (4), not working for pay (5), avoiding children (6), not volunteering (7) and being treated with less courtesy or respect (8)
Dr Sachin Shah, a physician-scientist and faculty member at Harvard, who led the research, said: ‘We often overemphasize the importance of medical conditions when thinking about longevity.
‘[But] this research demonstrates that our social lives are as important as medical conditions.’
He added: ‘From our data, we developed a 10-question survey that uses age, gender, and social characteristics to predict longevity. This survey also predicts other outcomes important to older adults, like living independently.’
Among the eight facts were living in a dirty area, meeting with children less than once a year, and failing to stay involved in the communtiy through activities such as volunteering (list below).
In the study, published this week in the journal PNAS, researchers analyzed results from the University of Michigan-run Health and Retirement study – which includes 20,000 people aged 50 years and over.
The team used the results to build a 10-question survey that can predict longevity — dubbed the social frailty index.
This asks people about their age and gender and whether they have any children, before moving on to ask whether they feel isolated and how often they interact with others.
Several studies have found that loneliness poses a similar risk to factors including smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise for shortening someone’s life.
Researchers say this is because people who are lonely have higher stress levels — or higher levels of the body’s stress hormone cortisol.
Scientists warn that this raises the risk of a myriad of health problems including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and high blood pressure.
Other studies have also pointed to not being in employment as raising a person’s risk of a shorter life.
Reasons for this include higher stress levels, but also being less able to afford good healthcare or a balanced diet.
It was not clear why other factors, such as having unclean streets, could lead to an earlier death.
But this may be because they are an indicator of socioeconomic status and, as a result, access to healthcare or a more balanced diet.
What were the eight factors predicting an earlier death?
- Poor neighborhood cleanliness;
- Low perceived control over finances;
- Meet with children less than once a year;
- Not working for pay;
- Not active with children;
- Not volunteering;
- Feeling isolated;
- Being treated with less courtesy or respect.
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