“Visit two friends and call me in the morning.” Most doctors probably wouldn’t dispense this advice to a patient, but maybe more of them should.
An increasing number of studies each year are demonstrating the power of friendship for promoting health, wellbeing, and a longer life. Researchers even have the numbers to back it up. One Australian study found that senior citizens with large social circles were 22% less likely to die during the course of the 10-year study period than their peers who had fewer close friendships.
Quality friendships have a positive effect on many aspects of physical health, from brain function to obesity. Having friends can even reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, Swedish researchers tracking heart disease among middle-aged men concluded that only smoking had as much impact on participants’ survival rate as friendships.
In 2006, the University of California, San Francisco, completed a study of more than 2,500 nurses who had developed breast cancer over the course of a decade-long study. Those researchers found that women who reported having few close friends at the start of the study were as much as four times more likely to die from the disease as women who reported having 10 or more close friends.
While the health benefits of close friendships are clear, the reason that friendships have such a dramatic effect on longevity remains a mystery. It certainly makes sense that those with a local network of friends to step in and provide care — meals, transportation, household help — stand a better chance of surviving a serious illness, but the health boost provided by close friendships doesn’t seem to diminish even when those friendships are maintained over long distances. Especially in this age of instant communication, true friendships can often withstand the tests of both space and time.
Whether they’re right next door or in another country, close friends make life richer and more satisfying. Friends provide us with a shoulder to cry on or a cheering squad when we need an extra boost. That’s why the Farmers’ Almanac is introducing a Year of Friendship in our recently released 2011 edition. We want to celebrate the power of friendship by sharing stories like that of “the Jersey Girls,” who have remained close over six decades. Check out our Friends for Life page for a chance to share the story of your own lifelong friendships.