When it comes to living a long, healthy life, that's
what friends are for.
New research from Australia suggests good buddies
are even more important than close family ties in
helping older people live longer.
For the study, researchers at Flinders University
in Adelaide interviewed about 1,500 people aged 70
and older. They asked each participant how much personal
and phone contact they had with various social networks,
including family and friends. Other factors known
to influence longevity, such as socioeconomic status,
health and lifestyle, were also considered.
The Adelaide team then tracked the participants'
survival over the next 10 years.
Surprisingly, close contact with children and relatives
had little impact on survival rates, the researchers
report in the current issue of the Journal of Epidemiology
and Community Health.
However, people with a strong network of friends
and confidants had a much better chance of survival
over the 10-year study period than individuals with
relatively fewer friends.
This "friendship effect" persisted despite
personal losses such as the death of a spouse, or
even the relocation of friends to other parts of the
country, the researchers found.
Friends may influence health habits, such as smoking
or drinking, or going to the doctor when a person
has troubling symptoms, the study authors suggested.
Friends may also have a significant impact on mood,
self-esteem and coping mechanisms during difficult