“Sweet friendships refresh the soul and awaken our hearts with joy.” What was taught in the Book of Proverbs is just as true today.

The health benefits of socializing are well established, but is there any positive impact of having friendships for older folks and the elderly? A major new study answered this question with a resounding yes.

Here’s what you need to know about the health benefits of having friends in your Golden Years.

The concept of ‘successful aging’ has become an important topic. To achieve this the emphasis has been put on a number of healthy behaviors such as improving your diet, increasing your physical activity and reducing unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and excessive drinking.

Research suggests that all of these lifestyle changes are important strategies for better health, but increasing scientific evidence points to regularly socializing with friends as just as important to your health and longevity. In fact, growing older without friends and the social connections and sense of belonging that they bring dramatically increases your risk of death from all causes.

Lack of social connection increases death risk

A nine-year study in a Finnish population aged 30 to 79 found a lack of social participation– especially in later life– increased the risk of death for women by 42 percent and for men by 56 percent.

Similar results were found in Japan. Researchers there discovered that Japanese men over the age of 65 who rarely met with friends had a 30 percent increased risk of death. While women without friends to spend time with had a whopping 81 percent increased risk of death.

On the flip side, having healthy friendships lengthens life.

Have friends, live longer

A study from Chile found that people over the age of 60 who engaged in social activities had a 22 percent lower risk of death over five years when compared to people who experienced social isolation.

Researchers believe that having close friends, whether they’re new friendships or old, lasting friendships, provides people of all ages with a greater sense of mental and physical well-being. But this is especially true for older adults.

The benefits of friendship to older folks is profound.

Friends are good for your mental and physical health

Studies from around the world on the benefits of friends show that an active social life can reduce the risk of chronic illness in older adults. Maintaining friendships is shown to reduce your risk of dementia, coronary artery disease, and mental health problems such as depression. Conversely, social isolation is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.

All of this research begs the question, how many social relationships and social interactions do you need to improve your health and longevity?

A team from Asia tried to answer this question.

Over the eight-year study period researchers found the more people socialized, the greater the reduction in risk of death. The longevity benefits ranged from an 18 percent reduction in death risk for less than one social interaction a week, to a reduction of 39 percent in death risk for socializing two or more times a week.

Maintaining friendships for health: Daily interactions are key

But the biggest increase in longevity from healthy friendships comes from daily interactions. The researchers report that seeing friends almost every day can cut your risk of death by more than half.

Scientists drew on data from 28,563 participants with an average age of 89 over a period of five years or until death.

They put participants into groups according to how often they engaged in social activities: Almost every day; at least once a week; at least once a month; occasionally; and never.

During the follow up period, almost three-quarters of participants died. After considering death-influencing risk factors such as gender, education, marital status, household income, fruit and vegetable intake, lifestyle, and poor health, the researchers found that more frequent social activity significantly increased survival.

Friends can help your mortality risk plummet

The greater the frequency of your social interactions with friends, the greater your likelihood of living longer.

In fact, up to five years from the start of the monitoring period, the standardized death rates per 100 individuals in each group for a year were:

  • Never see friends- 18.4 percent risk of death
  • Occasionally see friends- 8.8 percent risk of death
  • At least once a month see friends- 8.3 percent risk of death
  • At least once a week see friends-7.5 percent risk of death
  • Almost every day see friends 7.3 percent risk of death

It’s worth noting that for the “see friends almost every day group” the lower risk translates into delaying death by a whopping 87 percent when compared with those who never socialize. Also, in a separate analysis from five years to the end of follow-up, only socializing almost every day was linked with significantly longer survival. Here, the time to death was delayed by 204 percent over those who did not socialize.

The researchers concluded their study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health in May, by writing:

“Frequent participation in social activity was significantly associated with prolonged overall survival in older Chinese people. However, in order to achieve long-term survival benefits of social activity, daily participation in social activity should be urged.”

My takeaway

The research is clear: Having healthy, close friendships improves your health, overall well-being, and longevity. But it will also improve your life satisfaction and give you the emotional support you’ll need to better cope with life’s challenges. And let’s face it, spending time with friends is fun.

So, take the time today to reach out to a good friend and make a date to grab lunch, take in a movie or go to a ball game.

If you need to expand your social circle and make new friends some great places to start might be within your faith community, at area social events where you can meet others with similar interests, or at a community fitness facility or your local gym.


https://www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/frequent-socialising-linked-to-longer-lifespan-of-
older-people/

https://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2023/02/07/jech-2022-219791