When you think about the important things in life, friends are second only to (and sometimes tied with) family. Elbert Hubbard once said, “A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” Whether we’re talking about a friend new or old, someone you see on occasion or someone who’s become a fixture at your home, it is the eternal truth that our friends make our lives, even more, the merrier.
Our friends are there to pick us up when we fall and celebrate our successes. They are endless sources of support, understanding, and joy. These points are obvious. What you may not know is that good friends actually have a beneficial impact on your health as you get older.
A recent study out of Northwestern University found that many elderly participants attributed their good health to having full social calendars. This isn’t news to most folks, as the correlation between happiness and having a host of friends is obvious. The real news was the actual, physical benefits that participants reported.
The research involved 50 elderly individuals. The group consisted of 19 cognitively average men and women (based on their age), and 31 others who were over the age of 80 and experienced some level of cognitive decline. (Those folks were called “SuperAgers.”) Scientists collected data from the group using a 42-question survey about their psychological well-being.
Most of the answers to the questions, including things like retaining autonomy and finding life’s purpose, were similar between the cognitively average group and the SuperAgers. Where researchers saw differences, however, was in the domain of reporting close, trusting, fulfilling relationships. Those who were cognitively average reported more, and deeper, social ties than did the SuperAgers.
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While this research revealed more about the health benefits of friendships, it also agrees with previous studies about just how beneficial deep and meaningful friendships are. For instance, one study from William J. Chopik found that friendships have a remarkable impact on our long-term health, more so even than family relationships.
Another study, this one from Brigham Young University, found that folks who have strong social relationships are less likely to pass away prematurely than people who are isolated. In fact, the effect of social ties on lifespan is twice as strong as that of exercising and equivalent to that of quitting smoking. Without close friends, people face a higher risk of dementia, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even arthritis.
If we consider why friends are so good for us, we could probably come up with dozens of reasons. Our friends influence our moods and outlook on life, and can even hold sway over our diet, alcohol intake, smoking, and fitness programs. They are a powerful force of good in our everyday lives.
So, go ahead. Go out for a fun night on the town with some of your best friends. Better yet, take a long-weekend trip. No matter what shape or size your socializing takes, just make sure you do lots of it. The more you get out, the more years you’ll have to keep up with your friends. And it’s good for you, body and soul.
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