Experts at Michigan State University conducted two studies, one of which involved nearly 300,000 people aged between 15 and 99 in over 90 countries.
It was found that those who valued their friendships more, reported being healthier and happier, even more so as they aged.
For the second study researchers focused on the results of a study of over 7,000 people in the U.S. aged 50-plus. Participants were quizzed on the strength of their friendships, such as how well they thought their pals understood them. Individuals were also asked to share how much they agreed with the statement, ‘My life is close to ideal.’
Subjects were followed up over the next six years and monitored for illnesses such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes. Those who described their friendships as stressful were more likely to have higher rates of the disease, while people with supportive friends were overall healthier.
But when it came to how family affected participants’ health and wellbeing there was little influence aside from children and spouses, who had a small impact, though nowhere near as much as friends.
“Friends are a conscious choice. Family relationships can be serious, negative and monotonous,” William Chopik, associate professor of psychology and author of the study, said.
“With friends you are more likely to do activities – they provide an outlet. You can say things to friends and they are less judgmental. There is a distance there that provides a level of honesty.”
Researchers also revealed a review of almost 150 studies involving over 308,000 people showed strong social relationships increased people’s odds of survival over the study period by 50 per cent. These staggering results are similar to the benefits of giving up smoking, experts noted.
Chopik stresses that people should ensure friendships remain strong even after cohabiting and having children, warning that numbers often drop from five or six close friends to just two or three during these periods.
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