Facebook Users Live Longer, Study Claims

 Loneliness is a mortality risk factor as significant as smoking and alcohol consumption. Loneliness is a mortality risk factor as significant as smoking and alcohol consumption.

Having friends is known to be good for our psychological well-being and overall health, but a new study suggests it might not just be offline relationships that contribute to good health. Online social networks can be beneficial - if we use them correctly, that is.

In our increasingly globalized world, more and more people are living away from their family and birthplace. This sometimes leads to the breaking of social ties and increasing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The benefits of having close friends have been linked to longevity as early as the late 1970s. A 9-year long study then showed that people with no social and community ties were up to 2.8 times more likely to die prematurely than those with extensive social connections.

Since then, similar studies have been carried out bearing similar results.

In fact, a meta-analysis of over 148 studies revealed that strong social ties improve chances of survival by as much as 50%. Research also shows that loneliness is a mortality risk factor as significant as smoking and alcohol consumption.

The new study suggests that using Facebook increases longevity. However, this is only the case when Facebook is used to maintain and improve real-life social connections, according to the authors.

The study looked at 12 million Facebook users and was led by University of California-San Diego researchers William Hobbs and James Fowler.

The findings confirm what has been known to be true for the offline world.

“Happily, for almost all users, what we found is [a correlation between] balanced use and a lower risk of mortality,” says senior author James Fowler.”

The results of the study have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported.

They studied people born between 1945 and 1989, and monitored their online activity over a period of 6 months. Researchers compared the activity of those still living with those who had died.

The first significant finding is that Facebook users live longer than those who are not online. In a given year, the average Facebook user is approximately 12% less likely to die than someone who does not use the networking site.

Users with average or large social networks - that is, in the top 50 to 30% - lived longer than those in the lowest 10%. This result is in line with previous studies of offline relationships and longevity.

The team also found that Facebook users with the highest levels of offline social activity also have the highest longevity.

Researchers point out that their findings, while significant, are not enough for devising new policies or government recommendations. They also emphasize that their findings simply indicate a correlation and should not be interpreted as causation.

More and more people are living alone, and people across the globe report increasing feelings of loneliness.

This could mean that in the larger context of increasing isolation, social media, if used in moderation, can provide some much-needed comfort.

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