February 21, 2020   8:09am

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How to live healthier and longer? Have more friends…

Along with a good diet and regular exercise, there’s also another key element to longevity– friendship. According to “What are Friends For? A Longer Life,” in The New York Times, “Researchers are only now starting to pay attention to the importance of friendship and social networks in overall health. A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. A large 2007 study showed an increase of nearly 60 percent in the risk for obesity among people whose friends gained weight. And last year, Harvard researchers reported that strong social ties could promote brain health as we age.”The article references an interesting book that follows the friendship of 11 childhood friends from Iowa to illustrate its point. The book, “The Girls From Ames: A Story of Women and a 40-Year Friendship” by Jeffrey Zaslow shows “how their close friendships have shaped their lives and continue to sustain them.” In the book two of the friends develop breast cancer, with one saying that “her friends from Ames have been an essential factor in her treatment and recovery.”

And it could be an essential factor in the recovery of all breast cancer patients. A 2006 study of women with breast cancer found that those without friends were four times as likely to die than those with at least 10 friends in their social circle– outweighing even family members and spouses.

Friendship doesn’t only prove a factor in potentially fatal diseases though, the article also points out that those with friends are less likely to catch colds, perhaps because they have lower stress levels.

Another study conducted by the University of Virginia had students walk up a steep hill with a heavy backpack. Those that made the trek with close friends recorded the hill as being less steep than those who did the hike solo. And, what’s more interesting, the longer the friends walking together knew each other, the less steep the hill was recorded to be.

“People with stronger friendship networks feel like there is someone they can turn to,” said Karen A. Roberto, director of the center for gerontology at Virginia Tech. “Friendship is an undervalued resource. The consistent message of these studies is that friends make your life better.”


The New York Times, “What Are Friends For? A Longer Life,” Tara Parker-Pope, April 21, 2009, Page D1

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