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What are the ingredients for a long, healthy life? Most experts will point to things like exercise, a nutritious diet, less stress, good health care, and—believe it or not—a social life.1–5
More and more, we’re coming to understand how and why strong social connections are paramount to our well-being. Earlier this year, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, issued a report on what he calls an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation,” which emphasized how loneliness is one of the most negative factors for our health.
Older adults are at a higher risk of becoming isolated. Research shows that the incidence of loneliness increases and that social networks shrink with age.6 “Loneliness is one of the biggest issues amongst older adults and severely impacts health and well-being,” Charlynn Ruan, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the founder of Thrive Psychology Group, tells SELF.
That’s where friendships come in. “Having friends is one of the biggest factors impacting physical and mental health in old age,” Dr. Raun says. And while family certainly helps meet your social activity quota, friendships offer something singular. “Friendships absolutely have a different effect on our well-being,” Howard Pratt, DO, board-certified medical director at Community Health of South Florida, Inc., tells SELF. “We choose our friends; we don’t choose our family.”
1. Longer life
Strong friendships are a golden ticket for longevity. A comprehensive 2010 meta-analysis of 148 different studies found that strong social connections boost “chances of survival” by 50%, meaning that they help you live longer.7 A lack thereof, on the other hand, has the opposite effect: Research shows that loneliness and social isolation increase the risk for premature death by 26% and 29%, respectively.8 In the US surgeon general’s report, the health impact of loneliness is even compared to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
2. Stronger immune system and physical health
“Friendships and social connection aren’t just good for the soul—they’re literally good for your health,” Neha Chaudhary, MD, psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and chief medical officer at Modern Health, tells SELF.
Lack of social connection is associated with a higher risk of disease, for example—including a 29% higher chance of heart disease and a 32% higher chance of stroke, according to research.8 Loneliness can even mean you pick up the common cold more often; research shows lack of social connection may increase susceptibility to viruses and respiratory illness, including COVID-19.10
3. Better cognitive health and memory
“Regular interaction with friends keeps us socially engaged, which is important for our cognitive health,” Niloufar Esmaeilpour, MSc, RCC, registered clinical counselor at Lotus Therapy & Counselling Centre in Vancouver, tells SELF. “Engaging in social activities can help keep the mind active and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.”
Source : Self.com