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Are Best Friends the Key to Longevity?

You always knew you couldn’t live without your best friends. But did you know you could be living longer because of them? Fascinating social science research shows us a correlation between social life and longevity, meaning who you choose as a friend really does matter. Bottom line: good relationships have a big impact on your health, which in turn can extend your life, says Psychology Today. As Best Friends Day approaches on June 8, there’s no better time to explore the benefits of friendship, especially as they relate to health. As you care for your loved one in end of life care in Santa Clara, you can talk about friendships, reminisce, and take a look at your own life in terms of the people you decide to hang out with.

A Look at the Research

Researchers suggest that our social networks may be even more important for longevity than the amount of exercise you get and how well you eat. Why? It turns out, who you know is directly related to the kind of lifestyle you lead. Studies have shown that the longest-lived cultures around the globe show that people vary greatly in the kinds of foods they eat as well as the amount and types of physical exercise they engage in. This difference lies in their meaningful social relationships and dedication to purposeful living. A healthy social network is one that adapts to change and features an even balance of emotional support as well as engagement, stimulation, and challenge.

Harvard Women’s Health Watch released a study revealing that strong social connections can improve health and increase longevity. Friendships are just as important to overall quality of life as choosing not to smoke, eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep every night. Researchers found that people who had satisfying relationships with others were happier, better adjusted, had fewer health problems and indeed lived longer.

The reverse seems to be true as well. Weak social ties are linked to higher rates of depression, later-in-life cognitive decline, and increased mortality. In fact, one study found that a lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death by 50 percent, equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day with a greater impact than physical inactivity and obesity.

Why Social Connections are Healthful

There are connections between biological and behavioral factors that lead to the many health benefits of meaningful connections with others. Friendship can relieve high levels of stress, which can negatively impact your coronary arteries, stomach function, insulin regulation and immune system function. In addition, caring behaviors have been found to release stress-reducing hormones. Another study showed that women with strong friendships and marriages displayed a lower risk for cardiovascular disease than those without. On the other side of the coin, negative interactions with family and friends had connections to poorer health. A Swedish study even found that the risk for dementia was lowest in those with satisfying relationships.

Those who lack strong social contacts are more likely to have higher levels of stress and inflammation, which can negatively impact every bodily system, including the brain, says The New York Times. Without social interactions, blood flow to vital organs lessens and immune function is decreased. Chronic inflammation, another by-product of weak social ties, can lead to increased risk for heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and suicide. Recent research shows that older adults who volunteer tend to have lower levels of inflammation, which is linked to chronic illness, accelerated frailty and mortality. Researchers speculate that volunteering is a meaningful task, which helps us cultivate relationships with others who share the same values as us.

In a large study of 7,000 men and women appearing in the Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that those who were disconnected from others were three times more likely to die during the nine-year study than those with strong friendships. Researchers concluded that people with close social ties and unhealthy lifestyles (think smoking and lack of exercise) tended to live longer than those with poor social ties but healthier living habits. The people who lived the longest were people who had both healthy lifestyles and close social ties.

Choosing your friends carefully can lead to a long life. So, if you have a long list of friends, or at least a few close ones whom you can depend on for anything, you’re headed in the right direction! Maintain your social networks (offline!) to ensure a longer, healthier, happier life.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Contact us at 888-755-7855 to learn more about our hospice and home care services. We have many caring companions, nurses, social workers and therapists who can offer emotional support to patients and their families. Our offices are located in Sunnyvale, South San Francisco, and Oakland, offering personalized, high-quality care, delivered with empathy, respect and kindness.