The Church Effect
People who attend church or other religious services at least once a week are more likely to live longer, stay healthier, and be less susceptible to depression than those who don't go as frequently, according to one of many studies by Harold G. Koenig, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University Medical Center.
"It's likely that immune function is influenced by spiritual well-being," says Koenig.
Join the Club
Americans 65 and older who participate in social activities like bingo reap the same longevity benefits as those who exercise, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. (But it may work only in America: Researchers found that when they compared the lifestyles of elderly Swedish men and women who were either solitary or social, physically active or inert, the only significant survival benefit was for men who engaged in active hobbies—alone.)
High-Yield Personal Bonds
Numerous studies by psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, and her husband, immunologist Ronald Glaser, PhD, both professors at the Ohio State University, indicate that the more support a person has from friends and family, the more protective his or her immune system is.
One of their earliest studies, on perpetually stressed medical school students, showed that those who were more isolated and lonely were less responsive to a series of hepatitis-B vaccines. Women with close ties to family and friends also have more energy and are physically stronger than those lacking such relationships, according to a study of 56,436 women ages 55 to 72 conducted at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital.
A Healthy Dose of Company
The benefits of support groups for women with breast cancer have been documented by a host of studies. Although the talk sessions don't seem to increase survival, women who participate in them report feeling less pain than those who don't. They're also less prone to anger, anxiety, and depression, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in December 2001.
A separate study in the journal Cancer indicates that online support groups confer many of the same advantages, including a reduction in depression and stress.
Baby, You've Got Friends
Women trying to get pregnant can also benefit from weekly support groups. An infertility study headed by Alice Domar, PhD, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, followed 184 women for one year and found that those who attended support groups for 10 weeks were more than twice as successful at conceiving than those in the control group. In fact, many women chosen as controls dropped out of the study to join the group sessions because they worked so well.