It doesn’t need to be said that friendship is beneficial to everyone. Certainly, eating well, exercising, replacing hormones with bio-identical molecules, and a healthy lifestyle are known to increase longevity and reduce the risk of death, but science reveals that having a lot of “real” friends help us live longer too. Research shows that meaningful friends can affect our health even more than family! “The Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging” (Lynne C Giles et al) found that close relationships with children and other relatives had very little impact on how long we live, but people with the most friends tended to outlive those with the fewest by 22%.
Better yet, “a clinical review of nearly 150 studies” (Julianne Holt-Lunstad et al) show that social connections improve our odds of survival by 50%.
The following statistics from the study put it in perspective. Having few friends and low social interaction is equivalent to:
Smoking 15 cigarettes a day
Being an alcoholic
Twice the harm of obesity
The benefits of being social include reduced risk of cardiovascular problems, Alzheimer’s and depression. As Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a lead researcher of the study, describes: “when someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks”. Furthermore, meaningful connections with others help relieve harmful levels of stress (through the release of stress-reducing hormones), which can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system. Vice versa, those who lack strong social contacts are more likely to have higher levels of stress and chronic inflammation, which can negatively impact every bodily system, including the immune function and the brain.
Therefore, cultivate friendships throughout your life. Treasure the ones you have and be open to making new ones. As Amy Poehler said:
“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you; spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life”.
I wish you all the best.
Dr. Valeria Acampora