"You got to have friends to make that day last long," sings Bette
Midler. But good friends may help your life last longer, too, according to an
Australian study. Conducted by the Centre for Ageing Studies at Flinders
University, the study followed nearly 1,500 older people for 10 years. It found
that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest
friends by 22%.
Why is this so? The authors suspect that good friends discourage unhealthy
behaviors such as smoking and heavy drinking. And
the companionship provided by friends may ward off depression, boost self-esteem, and
provide support. Also, as people age, they may become more selective in their
choice of friends, so they spend more time with people they like.
According to Meredith Vieira, who for nine years has famously shared a couch
and her opinions on ABC's hit morning talk show The View, "any
illness is a family illness. It is the other person in the room - a living,
breathing [person] who is there with you. To ignore an illness is not healthy,
particularly if it's chronic."
Vieira may trade quips and barbs on every subject from politics to pop
culture with co-hosts Barbara Walters, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and
Close relationships with children and
relatives, in contrast, had almost no effect on longevity. Lynne C. Giles, one
of the four researchers who conducted the study, emphasized that family ties
are important; they just seem to have little effect on survival.
The Health Benefits of Good Friends
Lots of research has shown the health benefits of social support.
One such study, reported in the journal Cancer, followed 61 women
with advanced ovarian cancer. Those with ample
social support had much lower levels of a protein linked to more aggressive
types of cancer. Lower levels of the protein, known as interleukin 6, or IL-6,
also boosted the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Women with weak social support
had levels of IL-6 that were 70% higher in general, and two-and-a-half times
higher in the area around the tumor.
In 1989, David Spiegel, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford
University, published a landmark paper in Lancet. Itshowed that women
cancer who participated in a support group lived twice as long as those who
didn't. They also had much less pain.
Sheldon Cohen, PhD, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, in
Pittsburgh, has shown that strong social support helps people cope with
"Friends help you face adverse events," Cohen tells WebMD. "They
provide material aid, emotional support, and information that helps you deal
with the stressors. There may be broader effects as well. Friends encourage you
to take better care of yourself. And people with wider social networks are
higher in self-esteem, and they feel they have more control over their
Other studies have shown that people with fewer friends tend to die sooner
after having a heart attack than people with a strong social network. Having
lots of friends may even reduce your chances of catching a cold. That's true
even though you're probably exposed to more viruses if you spend a lot of time
"People with social support have fewer cardiovascular problems and
immune problems, and lower levels of cortisol -- a stress hormone," says
Tasha R. Howe, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Humboldt State
University. "Why? The evolutionary argument maintains that humans are
social animals, and we have evolved to be in groups. We have always needed
others for our survival. It's in our genes. Therefore, people with social
connections feel more relaxed and at peace, which is related to better