I definitely had a better social life as a kid — even though I always said I was bored, my schedule was filled with playdates and plans with friends in my neighborhood. I'm still pretty social, but it's much harder to befriend people as an adult. If you were a fellow social butterfly as a child, I have good news for you: according to a new study, childhood friendships can benefit you as an adult. Researchers from Texas Tech University and the University of Pittsburgh analyzed data from nearly 270 men to examine "whether greater social integration with peers during childhood and adolescence" can affect adult health, according to a press release about the study. Basically, they wanted to figure out whether having a busy social life as a child has any effect on adults.
They found that men who were more social as children had lower blood pressure and lower BMI as adults, although it should be noted that BMI has become a controversial way to measure health. The results are published in journal Psychological Science. Study co-author Jenny Cundiff, a psychological scientist at Texas Tech University, says in a press release about the study that the study may show just how influential our upbringings are. "These findings suggest that our early social lives may have a small protective influence on our physical health in adulthood, and it's not just our caregivers or financial circumstances, but also our friends who may be health protective," she says.
The authors of this study investigated an already-existing link between staying social and being healthy. An excerpt:
In many previous studies, researchers have found an association between adults' social well-being — including their close relationships and sources of social support — and health-related outcomes including cardiovascular risk factors. Cundiff and coauthor Karen Matthews of the University of Pittsburgh wondered whether this association might be evident much earlier in life, in childhood and adolescence.
Based on the conclusions, healthy adults may have their childhood buddies to thank. Even though the study only focuses on men, there could be implications for all genders here, especially if future research examines even more demographics. "Although this wasn't an experiment, it was a well-controlled longitudinal study in a racially diverse sample — so it provides a strong clue that being socially integrated early in life is good for our health independent of a number of other factors such as personality, weight in childhood, and the family's social status in childhood," Cundiff says in the release.
You can't change the past, so if you were an antisocial kid, there's not much that you can do about its effect on the present. And other factors come into play when looking at blood pressure, like genetics, kidney and thyroid health, alcohol use and even the medications you're taking, per Mayo Clinic. There are plenty of people who didn't care for social interaction as children and are totally fine now, and vice versa. But I may need to thank my parents for always pushing me to introduce myself to new people when I was younger. I'm inexplicably physically healthy, even though I subsist mostly on fast food, iced coffee, and diet soda, and I've decided that my extroverted personality is the cause here.
On a serious note, this is a reminder of just how formative our childhood years are. Not only can our experiences affect how we view the world, but they can change how our body responds to stress and other external factors. I'm now on a mission to make sure my hypothetical kids are as social as possible — it definitely seems like it can't hurt.