Strong Friendships Increase Life Expectancy
The Loner Lifestyle
Throughout high school, I didn’t have many friends. In fact, looking back on it, I really didn’t have any friends. I was voted onto Homecoming Court and generally liked (I think), but I didn’t have girlfriends with whom I could share problems and giggle. Instead, I usually had boyfriends that I went out with on the weekends.
To make a long story short, I began to feel a real loneliness in my early 20s. I had just broken up with a long-term boyfriend and had nobody but my sister to turn to. And throughout both of my marriages, it was the same story: my friends were their friends (both of my ex-husbands had very few friends, which meant I didn’t have many either), so when the marriages ended, those friendships did as well.
Friendship and Life Expectancy
Today, I am fortunate to have a network of people in whom I can confide. But friendship is about more than merely talking; researchers are now paying attention to and touting the importance of friendship and social networks in overall health. Recent studies have found:
- Having a large group of friends makes you 22% less likely to die in the next 10 years.
- Having friends who have gained weight increases your risk of obesity to 60%.
- Having close friends and family promotes good brain health as you age.
- Having 4 or more close friends makes you 50% less likely to have heart attack.
- Having just 1 friend can add 10 years to your life.
- Having friends makes you less likely to pick up a cold virus.
- Having support from good friends improves recovery in people who've had a heart attack or cancer.
The fact of the matter is, the fields of science and medicine are just beginning to understand the complexity of human health and the idea that all aspects of our lives can affect our physical well being. Human beings are social creatures. Just as lack of food, or water, or even sleep can make us ill, too little social interaction can make us both mentally and physically weaker.
As a nod to this theory, a landmark UCLA study in 2000 showed that, for women, having a circle of friends actually provides an alternative to the traditional fight-or-flight response to stress - "tend-and-befriend." According to researchers, being around children or other women friends causes a woman to release more oxytocin, a calming chemical known as the "motherly love" hormone.