We think about our health a lot, don’t we? We might do our best to eat well and exercise but that’s not all we need to do in order to live long lives.
According to a decent bit of research throughout the years, friendships play a good-sized role in longevity. If you really want to live longer, you should do your best to make good friends and surround yourself with people who will be there for you as time passes. Lots of studies have shown that our friendships can affect our health in big ways and well, that’s something we should not forget.
Actually, one review in specific that covered roughly three hundred thousand people showed that those with stronger social ties, in general, have a roughly fifty percent better chance of survival. This study is known as The 2005 Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging and it found that people with the most friends tend to outlive those with fewer friends by about twenty-two percent. I know, that might not sound like a lot but it is a very big difference, honestly.
Psychology Today actually wrote as follows on good friendships and living longer:
Studies examining the longest-lived cultures around the world demonstrate that, while none eat much processed food and all maintain a relatively active lifestyle, they vary greatly in the types of foods they eat (though all eat lots of fruits and vegetables), and the amount and types of physical engagement they engage in. What isn’t different, however, is that their lives center on meaningful social relationships and purposeful living.
It seems that the most adaptive social network is one that offers an optimal balance of social relationships that provide close emotional support and an adequate amount of stimulation, challenge, and social engagement.
How do you know if yours does? If the people in your life support your personal goals, particularly when those goals are defined by a clear purpose in life, you might be on the right path. And we seem to make better decisions about these people as we age. We become more selective about the people we make time for in our lives as we get older, saving our time for those who provide the most positive emotional experiences (English & Carstensen, 2014).
Consider a culture that exemplifies these characteristics—and also happens to be home to the longest-lived people in the world: In Japan, and in Okinawa in particular, life expectancy is higher than any other place on Earth, with an astonishing number of centenarians. In fact, children born in Japan can expect to live about a decade longer than kids born in the United States. Efforts to understand the unique longevity benefits of the Japanese way of life have led many to consider an important factor often neglected in other cultures—Ikigai, which translates roughly to “life purpose.” Living a life that centers on life purpose has the great benefit of bringing meaning to one’s life and daily activities, and shaping who you include in your daily life. This is particularly evident later in life. In the United States, retirement is defined primarily by what we don’t do (i.e., work). But in Japan, as older people negotiate their daily activities and who they spend their time with, the concept of ikigai clarifies their social role, providing the blueprint for an active, social, and productive lifestyle (Carr, 2013).
Having a life in which one focuses on meaning and purpose is likely protective in several ways. One hypothesis is that having a clear sense of purpose allows us to tolerate unpleasantries better because we can justify the benefits that may accrue in the name of a larger purpose beyond our own individual discomfort. In other words, while a certain task may not be particularly enjoyable, if you know that task is helping someone else or “doing good” for society, it feels justified and you can be resilient to temporary feelings of frustration, anger, discomfort, or sadness (Charles & Carstensen, 2008; Hershfield, Scheibe, Sims, & Carstensen, 2013).
Even Harvard has written on this topic, good connections really do matter more than we tend to allow ourselves to see. They make us feel better but also might be aiding to help us live much longer. While we do not understand completely why this happens, it clearly does.
Harvard wrote as follows on that:
Scientists are investigating the biological and behavioral factors that account for the health benefits of connecting with others. For example, they’ve found that it helps relieve harmful levels of stress, which can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system. Another line of research suggests that caring behaviors trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.
Research has also identified a range of activities that qualify as social support, from offers of help or advice to expressions of affection. In addition, evidence suggests that the life-enhancing effects of social support extend to giver as well as to receiver.
All of this is encouraging news because caring involvement with others may be one of the easiest health strategies to access. It’s inexpensive, it requires no special equipment or regimen, and we can engage in it in many ways.
I for one would not give up my closest friends for the world and well, this study shows me even more that I shouldn’t. How do you feel about all of this and do you cherish your friendships? To learn more on this topic take a look at the video below.