Survival of the Social

By Michelle Flythe | September 1, 2005 | 0 comments

It seems there may be yet another reason to appreciate your friends: New research suggests that they might literally add years to your life.

Researchers in Australia analyzed data from a 10-year study of more than 1,000 adults, ages 70 and older, to see whether having networks of family, friends, children, or confidants would predict their survival. (Confidants included anyone—friends or family—respondents thought that they could trust and confide in.) The results, published earlier this year in the Journal of Epidemiological Community Health , show that adults with a stronger network of friends were significantly more likely to live longer. This may not seem surprising—yet stronger networks of relatives or children did not show any effect on life expectancy.

The researchers suggest that this discrepancy may stem from the fact that we get to pick our friends and not our relatives. This may make it easier for older adults to choose relationships that prove less stressful, enabling them to preserve and build resources such as social support, emotional resiliency, and control over their moods.

Yet an earlier study by the researchers found that among the same pool of older adults, people with a strong network of relatives were less likely to be afflicted with age-related physical disabilities. Maintaining networks of friends, children, or confidants did not help in this respect. The researchers suggest that relatives, more than other individuals, may have more influence over health-related behaviors that affect mobility, such as complying with a physician’s recommendations.

The researchers are still synthesizing the results from the two studies and investigating the underlying factors behind these results. But despite any discrepancies, lead author Lynne Giles said that the studies deliver a key message: “A wide social network of both family and friends appears to convey important health benefits in terms of disability and survival.”

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