This is the perfect follow-up to my post from just the other day touting the Five Most Common Regrets of the Dying for justification of blowing off a responsibility or two and going to hang out with your friends. A recent article in Men's Journal highlighted research into just how crucial good friendships can be. Apparently, having strong social bonds with friends is a MORE important factor in healthy aging and longevity than diet and exercise.
As a physician, I was pretty surprised to read that. I know all about the harmful effects of stress on your body and warn my patients against stressing too much on a regular basis. I like to promote spending quality time with friends and family as a key to battling that stress more than anybody I know but I had no idea it was of such importance. The article outlines a huge meta-study performed in part at Brigham Young University reviewing 148 studies with a combined 308,849 participants. The study found that loneliness is just as harmful to health as, get this, not exercising, smoking 15 cigarettes a day, alcoholism, and fully twice as bad as being obese! That is pretty significant. Maybe that's how Milton Berle lived so long smoking all those cigars...
You might be saying to yourself "Wow, that is incredible news. I might not have many friends, but at least I have my family". Well guess what. That won't save your skin. A 2005 Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging showed that family relationships have almost no impact on longevity. Friendship on the other hand boosted life span as much as 22%. Unbelievable. Even more staggering, a 2010 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology that looked at 2,230 cancer patients in China showed that the number one predictor of survival was the patients social well-being, including friendship.
The mechanisms are no mystery. I talk about them all the time here. Just browse through any number of posts and you will hear about the negative impact of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine, which are the key players in these studies. The surprising part is how effective a good buddy can be in battling the negative effects these hormones have on the body over the long term. There are no shortage of supplements, herbs, yoga poses, acupuncture points, prescriptions etc. that are marketed to you on the basis of keeping your stress in check and helping you age in a healthy way. All you really need are fulfilling connections with people you care about, a sensible diet, exercise from time to time, and you will have one hell of a life. This article was huge for me. I hope it can be just as big for you.