June 15, 2005 -- Maybe Rachel, Joey, Chandler, and the rest of the gang on the hit television series Friends were on to something.
A new study shows that having a group of good friends around may be even more important than family for a long and healthy life.
Researchers followed nearly 1,500 people over the age of 70 for 10 years and found thatpeople with the strongest network of good friends lived longer than those with the fewest close friends.
And thosebeneficial effects of friendship on prolonging life remained significant throughout the decade, even when people were confronted by profound changes, such as the death of a spouse or family member, or when their friends moved away.
The results appear in the current issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Friendships Promote Long Life
In the study, researchers analyzed data collected from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging, which began in 1992.
At the start of the study, nearly 1,500 people over 70 were asked how much personal and phone contact they had with various social networks, including children, relatives, friends, and other confidants (including spouses). The group was monitored yearly for the first four years of the study and then about every three years.
After 10 years of follow-up, researchers found close contact with children and relatives had little impact on the risk of death. But a strong network of friends and confidants significantly reduced the risk of death during the follow-up period.
For example, those older adults with the strongest network of friends were 22% less likely to die during the study than those with the weakest network of good friendships.
Researchers say friends may exert a healthy influence on potentially risky behaviors like smoking and drinking, as well as have important effects on mood, self-esteem, and coping in times of difficulty.