Vitamin S – in other words, the total amount of social contact in your life – extends your life expectancy. But as you age, you need more and more, according to a study published in the Journal of Aging and Health.
The study in question was done by Patricia Thomas of the Population Research Center [Link], part of the University of Texas at Austin.
For her study Thomas used data on 1667 over-sixties, gathered between 1986 and 2005 for the Americans’ Changing Lives Survey. The participants had answered questions about their social contacts. Thomas therefore knew how often the participants spoke with friends, neighbours and members of the family; how often they visited with these people; how often they went to religious or other kinds of meetings, and how many hours a week they spent doing voluntary work.
Based on these data, Thomas divided the participants over five groups, or classes. The biggest group was Class 1. The people in this group started with lots of social contacts, but as time went on these contacts declined.
Then Thomas determined the mortality risk in each of the five classes. This was highest in Class 5: the group of people with relatively few social contacts when the study began and with even fewer as the study progressed. In the table above, the mortality rate of Class 5 is fixed at 1.
If you are ill, and you are no longer able to live at home, it’s pretty difficult to get enough Vitamin S. When Thomas performed statistical gymnastics to remove this effect [Class ], it became clear when Vitamin S can help extend life expectancy: if you’re used to high doses your whole life, and you keep increasing the dose the older you get.
“This suggests that social integration through social engagement can be important for mortality risk”, Thomas concludes. “However, this protection may depend on maintaining high levels of social engagement over time.”
Trajectories of social engagement and mortality in late life.
There is a dearth of empirical research examining how patterns of stability and change in social engagement affect mortality. This study uses social integration theory within a life course framework to examine trajectories of social engagement over time and how those patterns relate to mortality.
Data are drawn from the Americans’ Changing Lives survey, a nationally representative panel study, with mortality information spanning from 1986 to 2005.
Even after controlling for known predictors of mortality, membership in a trajectory of high and slightly increasing social engagement was related to lower risk of mortality. Sociodemographic, health condition, and health behavior variables mediated the impact of the other social engagement trajectories on mortality.
Findings suggest the importance of maintaining high levels of social engagement over time for the health of older adults.
PMID: 22219207 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]