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Your lifestyle, your quirk
Social butterflies may outlive us all. Studies have been touting the health benefits of strong friendships and large social circles for decades, and it turns out friends can help you survive cancer and prevent heart disease, as well as postpone death in older adults. The next time you’re thinking up all of the ways your best friend has had a positive effect on your life, add these to the list.
Staying social can increase your lifespan. Older adults who continue working after reaching retirement age often live longer than those who stopped working. Studies have found that every year a senior continues to work postpones the development of dementia by six weeks. This may be because of the need for regular cognitive function, but it may also have to do with the social aspect. When living alone at home, many seniors won’t have the same mental stimulation as those who see coworkers and face job-related challenges every day.
Even if not working, keeping a healthy social life will help to keep older people healthy. An Australian study found that older adults who had many friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the 10-year period that was studied than seniors with fewer friends. An analysis of 148 different studies on the subject found that those with strong relationships were 50 percent less likely to die, regardless of age, sex, initial health status, or cause of death. In fact, the conclusion of the analysis was that “[t]he influence of social relationships on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality.”
The support of friendship can help patients survive cancer. In 2005, a study looking at patients with advanced ovarian cancer found that women with weaker relationships were more likely to have protein markers for a more aggressive form of ovarian cancer. A study from 1989 found that breast cancer patients who participated in a weekly support group lived twice as long as those in a control group. The study participants who went to a support group for one year lived an average of 36 months from the time the support group started, while those in the control group survived for about 18 months.
Friendship isn’t just good for your heart emotionally; it’s physically good as well. Studies have found that weak friendships can double the risk of heart disease, whereas strong social circles may lower blood pressure.
A recent study showed that teenagers who had leaner friends were more likely to lose weight over the course of a year than teens with obese friends. In fact, overweight teens with obese friends were more likely to gain more weight in the same time period. Researchers aren’t sure if this is because friends’ habits rubbed off on the teens or if those with similar habits tended to flock together, but your skinny friends could be helping you lose weight without any of you being aware of it.
Another study showed that talking to friends can reduce stress in women. In fact, the study showed that when stressed, women produce the hormone oxytocin, which elicits a “tend or befriend” response rather than the “fight or flight” response that is more common in stressed men. The tending and befriending behaviors may make women want to call their best friend or other supportive loved one. Talking to that special person will increase the oxytocin production, which leads to a reduction in stress levels.
On top of all of the mental health benefits to staying social and having friends, these physical health perks are enough reason to call up your BFF and schedule a lunch date ASAP.