What lifestyle change can you can take to live a longer life? Surprisingly, some research suggests that building a strong network of friends is one of the best things that an individual can do to lower the odds of dying prematurely.
A Chosen Family
Many people have heard the saying, “Friends are the family you choose.” In fact, many people feel they get more support from their chosen family – their friends, coworkers and neighbors – than from their biological family. In some cases, people primarily lean on friends because they live far away from family members. However, people may embrace their chosen family over their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. This rift from biological family members may be caused by long-seated frustrations, anger over unresolved issues, perceived slights while growing up or different ways of seeing the world. “They often can’t give us what we need, whether that’s praise or space or just the simplest of utterances: I’m proud of you, I see you, I love you,” wrote Courtney E. Martin in a column for OnBeing.org.
The Health Benefits of Friendship
Developing and nurturing a chosen family offers some major physical and psychological advantages. The Mayo Clinic reports that having the support of a strong community of friends provides multiple benefits, including an increased sense of belonging, purpose and happiness as well as a reduction in stress. Regular interactions with friends helps boost self-confidence and self-worth and provides encouragement to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle choices. A group of friends also can offer emotional sustenance during difficult times, such as receiving a diagnosis of a major disease, going through a divorce, being fired from a job or watching a loved one dying.
As noted earlier, studies suggest that having a supportive group of friends can increase a person’s lifespan. In fact, one meta-analysis looking at 148 studies of 308,000 participants found that strong social relationships were linked to a 50-percent increased chance of survival, regardless of the person’s age, gender, health status and cause of death. That percentage matches the health boost that one gets from stopping smoking. A strong network of friendships also offers nearly twice the benefits of physical activity in lowering the odds of dying early.
Quantity vs. Quality
In seeking these health benefits, one might ask which is more important – the number of friends or the quality of the friendship? The Mayo Clinic suggests that a few close friends who can be counted on should be the prime objective when trying to build a chosen family. However, a diverse network also will offer additional mental stimulation and support.
In today’s world that depends on social networks, building in-person relationships can be difficult; however, investing in these relationships instead of online relationships is a more efficient use of time since online relationships don’t necessarily translate into close friendships. Potential friends can be found through taking a class with people with similar interests (such as yoga or painting), joining a faith community, attending community events or volunteering.
Written for Jennyoga by Dorian Martin
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Martin, C. E. (2014). In Praise of Chosen Family. On Being with Krista Tippett.
Mayo Clinic. (ND). Friendships: Enrich Your Life and Improve Your Health.
Rettner, R. (2010). Want to Live Longer? Get Some Friends. LiveScience.com.