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ost friendships give people a sense of belonging, of
being loved, and of knowing that someone other than
family cares for and supports them.
Is this type of relationship something that can actually help us
live longer? Recent studies say yes. “By differentiating between
friends, children and other relatives,” the authors of a study on
longevity and friendship wrote in The Journal of Epidemiology
and Community Health (as reported by The NewYork Times), “we
were able to show that it is friends, rather than children or rela-
tives, which confer most benefit to survival later in life.”
According to another article in TIME, researchers at Brigham
Young University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill pooled data from 148 studies on health outcomes and social
relationships concerning more than 300,000 men and women
across the developed world – and found that those with fewer
friends had on average 50% higher odds of death in the study’s
followup period (an average of 7.5 years), than people with more
robust social ties. The report went on to point out how recent lab
studies have shown that, in a stressful situation, blood pressure
and heart rate will increase less when a person is with a friend.
There were also noticeable neurological differences between a
person who is alone and a person who has a pal: in a lab-induced
stressful situation, brain activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a
region activated in times of stress, is lessenedwhen people have a
close friend or relative alongside them. Finally, in one of the most
famous experiments on health and social life, Sheldon Cohen at
Carnegie Mellon University exposed hundreds of healthy vol-
unteers to the common cold virus, then quarantined them for
several days. It was quickly discovered that the study participants
who had more social connections and with more diverse social
networks – that is, with friends from a variety of social contexts
such as work, sports teams and church – were less likely to de-
velop a cold than the more socially isolated study participants.
So not only can friends help you live longer, they help keep you
healthy too!
Exercise and proper nutrition have been well-known factors in
improving longevity; however, these are things that require ef-
fort. It’s nice to know that simply enjoying a glass of wine with
a close friend on a cool evening can be adding years to your life.
The reasoning behind this seems logical enough – there’s some-
thing very comforting and reassuring about having close friends,
whether it be to share in good times or rocky ones. Friends can
make life-altering tragedies, such as the loss of a spouse or loved
one, all the easier to bear. When we find ourselves facing our
own demons (such as an illness, perhaps), a friend’s support is
The lesson is an easy one: Make time for your friends. Be the type
of friend that you’d want them to be. Nurture and cherish the
friendships that you have and don’t shy away from making new
ones. Because in the end, if you do unto others, you’ll find that
those “others” are the people who are sharing in your
long and fruitful life together.
by Jennifer Cox
Life is nothing without friendship.
~ Marcus Tullius Cicero