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Friendship and Longevity

*** RESEARCH: *** We have reported several studies over the last three years which indicate that one's health and sense of well-being may both be improved as a result of an active social life. The ...

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*** RESEARCH: ***

We have reported several studies over the last three years which indicate that one's health and sense of well-being may both be improved as a result of an active social life. The present research adds further substance to this view. In this case, researchers carried out a cross-time study of over two thousand Danish twins aged 75 and older. Their particular interest was in whether social interactions with spouses, children, relatives, friends, and with each other helped to extend life. The twins were both fraternal (1,383 pairs) and identical (764 pairs). They were studied in intervals of two years from 1995 to 2001. At each interval there were fewer people to interview, and by 2001 there were 639 people still alive and willing to be interviewed. The Danish Twin Registry provided demographic information on the twins. At each interview, the respondents were asked about their social relations, as well as other personal information. The twins also responded to the question of how often they met with various people. Health status was measured by asking people "How do you consider your health in general?" Interestingly, self-reported health was quite stable over the study period. In 2001, 65% gave the same answer as in earlier times; 26% actually reported improvement, and only 9% indicate that their health had declined!

The findings were rich and varied. Of central interest: those who met often with friends were more likely to live longer, while those who rarely met with friends were most likely to die earlier. Interestingly in this study the amount of contact with friends was more important for longevity than was contact with children or other family members. There were gender differences: Women were especially aided by having close ties with friends. While men may have contacts as often as women, they don't seem to carry with them the more powerful longevity benefits that they give women. In terms of twin relations, only for identical twins did the frequency of contact have an effect on risk of dying.

Other findings of interest: In terms of frequency of contact, the proportion of people who had frequent contacts increased over the time span of the study. This finding opposes the pervasive stereotype of aging as social isolation. Also countering common assumptions, men in this sample did not die at a more rapid rate than women. At the beginning of the study about twice as many women as men were alive. However, six years later the proportion of men and women in the sample was unchanged. Apparently, if you are a man who reaches 75, you are likely to be a robust sort. In terms of longevity, as often reported, married people had lower death rates than do others.

From: The Influence of Social Relations on Mortality in Later Life

from the The Gerontologist, 2005

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