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Prioritizing friendships can have huge positive benefits for your health and well-being

Written By Emily Loss Dec 7th 2023
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This holiday season I would like to focus on something other than food, exercise, and your physical body. Let’s talk friends, family, and social connections instead, and the direct correlation that they have with your health.

A brand-new Cambridge study shows that the influence of friends extends into our older years.

The study, published in the journal Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences,1 found that friendships in older adults were associated with some instances of better physical health and health behaviors, as well as better mental health across the board.

The study authors analyzed nearly 13,000 participants over the age of 50 while examining at 35 different health and psychological outcomes and how those were linked with the quality of the respondents’ friendships.

While many previous studies have connected having good friends with health benefits, this is the largest and most comprehensive study done to date.

The study found that those who had high-quality friendships lived longer. Study participants took the survey three times over eight years and those with the good friends were 24% less likely to die during that time.

Having good friends was also associated with a whole lot of positive health behaviors and benefits, like a 9% increase in likelihood to exercise, a 17% reduced risk of depression, and a 19% lower likelihood of having a stroke, among other findings.

A different large meta-analysis2 found that having a strong and active social life at any age decreased the risk of death by 91%, equivalent to giving up smoking 15 cigarettes a day!

Your Monthly Challenge

• Each week, aim to call a friend who you don’t see face to face very often so that you can catch up or arrange to meet.

• Try to do one social event/week. This could be meeting a group of friends or making a contribution to your community, for example by attending a community event or helping an isolated person.

References

1. E. S. Kim, W. J. Chopik, Y. Chen, R. Wilkinson, T. J. VanderWeele - United we thrive: friendship and subsequent physical, behavioural and psychosocial health in older adults (an outcome-wide longitudinal approach) - 2023


2. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B. Smith, J. Bradley Layton - Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review -2021