Friendship, Health and a Longer Life

Posted by on Dec 1 in Healthy Aging, Healthy Aging, Men, Women

Spending time with your guy or gal pals enhances all your relationships – even the most intimate – and can add years to your life.

“A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.”
~ Bernard Meltzer

“In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn’t terribly well appreciated,” said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “Friendship actually has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.”

Real Friends

A number of years ago, when I was going through a stage of single-hood, I took a vacation in Cancun with three girlfriends who were all married. They were looking forward to some time away from their day to day responsibilities, and I just needed to get away.

We had all been to many wonderful places with the men in our lives, yet agree that our trip to Cancun “with the girls” was one of the best vacations ever. It’s not that they didn’t miss their husbands and children or that I didn’t miss my boyfriend and cats. We did. But there is just something special about being away with friends that allows us to be ourselves and relax. Friends let you be yourself – and if you’re not being genuine, they will call you on it.

Researchers are finding that having a strong network of friends can help fight off illness, speed recovery, lower depression, slow the aging process and prolong life. Who knew? A 10-year Australian study found that those age 55+ with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. And just last year, Harvard researchers reported that older individuals with strong social may have healthier brains.

Tara Pope, in her article entitled “What Are Friends For? A Longer Life” on wrote, “Bella DePaulo, a visiting psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose work focuses on single people and friendships, notes that in many studies friendship has an even greater effect on health than a spouse or family member. In a major study of nurses with breast cancer, having a spouse wasn’t associated with survival, but having good friends was.”

And it’s not just women who benefit from spending quality time with their friends. A six-year study of 736 middle-age Swedish men found having a steady partner didn’t appear to affect the risk of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease – but having friendships did. Having a strong network of friends was as important as not smoking for avoiding a heart attack!

Other Positive Effects of Friendship

According to Diane Felmlee and Anna Muraco in their study, Gender and Friendship Norms among Older Adults:

  • Individuals of all ages report being happier when they are with friends than when they are alone or with family members (Larson and Bradney 1988)
  • Friendships are viewed as the most common source of joy (Argyle 1987)
  • The presence of friendship ties is also associated with a variety of positive health outcomes, such as lower mortality rates and a relatively long life (Sabin 1993)
  • In contemporary society, friends serve as “social convoys” through life’s journey and as personal, community sources of “cultural capital” (Pahl 2000)

Though I am certainly no psychologist, I think the research results are spot on. I know I feel relaxed, happy and upbeat when I’m with my friends. My good mood tends to stay with me as I go on with the rest of my day and, frankly, I’m just plain nicer to be around when I’m in a good mood. Isn’t everyone? So here’s my advice – backed up by the experts – regularly spend time with your friends, whether it’s for a dinner out, a ball game, a mountain hike or a trip to Cancun for vacation. You’ll all be happier for it – and so will the people who live with you when you get back home.