The support of friends, family, and our community has been shown to extend our lives, lower our risk of infection, and help us recover from conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure more quickly and effectively. A study conducted in 2001 by Beverly H. Brummett, Ph.D. and colleagues, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, showed that the survival rate for people with coronary artery disease was much higher if they had a support network.

According to Dr. James S. House, Director of the Survey Research Center and Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan, this study is noteworthy because it clearly shows that social isolation can increase the risk of death by two to three times. The study defined socially isolated people as those with three or less people in their support network. House points out that while social isolation is harmful to our health, those who are not socially isolated do not gain extra health benefits from adding additional relationships to their support network. In other words, someone with fifty friends experiences the same health benefits as a person with four friends.

According to the Free University of Berlin, people who experience long-term isolation, loneliness, neglect, or social stress can be more predisposed to illness. Dr. John Sheridan of Ohio State University, who was part of a team of 12 researchers and physicians who participated in the MacArthur Foundation’s Network on Mind-Body Interactions for ten years, concludes that, “People with little social support are more likely to develop a cold when challenged with an infectious virus… Stress influences the immune system, making a person susceptible to infections."

Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that the number of deaths each year attributable to low social support was 162,000, more than the annual number of deaths from lung cancer.

A study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine showed that self-reported health satisfaction worldwide is linked to strong social ties, regardless of factors such as age, gender, marital status, or education. The study, conducted by Lisa Berkman, Ph.D. of Harvard University, Santosh Kumar, Ph.D. of the University of Washington, and others, included more than 270,000 people, who were interviewed over a period of five years. The participants resided in 34 developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 22 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, 14 countries in South and Southeast Asia, and First World countries such as the United States and Spain, indicating that this link between high social support and health satisfaction is universal.

In 1953, in one of the first studies on the role of social support in the context of improving health, Drs. W. N. Chambers and M. F. Reiser found that heart disease was linked to emotionally charged events in the victim’s life. These scientists also demonstrated that the emotional support of the physician had extraordinarily beneficial effects on the course of the disease. Similarly, Dr. Lawrence Egbert found that patients undergoing surgery who were given emotional support by the anesthetist needed less pain medication and were discharged almost three days earlier than patients who didn’t receive any special supportive care.

More recently, in a 2010 study conducted at Ohio State University, researchers found that mice who lived with a partner following a heart attack suffered less brain damage than socially isolated mice. Similarly, another study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University showed that male mice that were housed with a female partner before and after a stroke had a significantly higher survival rate than isolated mice. These studies are part of an ongoing series at Ohio State’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.

There is a great deal of research suggesting that being a pet owner has numerous benefits to our health and well-being. A study conducted by Dr. William A. Banks at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine showed that nursing home residents reported feeling much less lonely after spending time alone with a dog. Researchers at the University of Buffalo found that when 24 New York City stockbrokers taking medication for high blood pressure added a dog or cat to their treatment regimen, their heart rate and blood pressure remained at healthy levels even when they were under stress.

In addition to buying a pet, there are plenty of ways to build a support network. We can meet new people by volunteering, getting involved in a hobby, or joining a gym, club, or other organization. It is important to learn time-management skills and make time to nurture relationships or cultivate new ones.

Author's Bio: 

Michael Locklear is the cofounder of The Global Peace Project, and has served as its President since 1986. He is the author of The Ultimate Guide to Total Health, and he has conducted more than thirty years of research into the science of the mind, health and nutrition, human behavior, and emotional well-being. He exposes the lies propagated by the government, medical professionals, the food industry, and the media and unveils the truth about what it takes to break the hypnotic trances that block our ability to achieve total health, wealth, and happiness.

For information on Michael’s research, visit his site,, which provides well-researched and scientifically supported advice on how to achieve a balance of the mind, brain, and body, resulting in total health.