Why connecting with a community of friends will help you live up to 7 years longer

I had lunch with an old friend of mine a few weeks ago. He was lamenting about the fact that busy lives made it hard to connect with the gang of friends that we all used to hang out with and yet he felt better when he made time for “his peeps”. It turns out that he’s not alone.
There is consistent evidence in the scientific literature that social relationships do affect health and longevity.
Most people I know, especially those with kids, find it hard to fit friends in amongst work, housework, and aging parents. The three-decade long Brigham Young University study showed that having an active community is one of the five things that affects quality of life and lets you live close to four years longer.
“People with good social relationships — friends, family and community involvement — were 50% less likely to die during study periods than those with sparse social support, the authors found. It’s an effect comparable to that of quitting smoking.” If you add things like consuming antioxidants such as green tea, getting enough Vitamin D and trace minerals, making sure you take time to de-stress during the day and actively take your holidays you have a much greater chance of being an octogenarian.
Quality friendships are more than the number of Facebook likes. The study references “a like-minded community of friends who get our humor, and have similar interests”. These are the people who are by our side in good times and bad. We need to build real human contact into our lives now more than ever. Susan Pinker, a Montreal based Developmental Psychologist researched the physiological effects of community. She offers up these key facts about those of us who make community a vital part of our lives.
Social butterflies live longer: People with a circle of friends who get together regularly live an average of 15 years longer than a loner. Friendship is good for the brain: The lowest rate of dementia appears in people with extensive social networks.
The touch of friendship: A hug, squeeze on the arm or a pat on the back lowers physiological stress responses, which in turn helps the body fight infection and inflammation.
Having a circle of friends leads to a lifetime of benefits. “In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn’t terribly well appreciated,” said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. “There is just scads of stuff on families and marriage, but very little on friendship. It baffles me. Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.” However outside of school and work contacts how do adults make new connections? Hosting a “play date” with a new buddy takes on a whole new meaning outside of Elementary school. For some people making friends is easy. Many others, though, find themselves as wallflowers without having learned the nuances of working rooms and effortlessly include new potential friends in their lives. So where do you make new friends? 30% of North Americans hang out with their work friends. It’s also the place where they meet new potential partners. Lots of people use meet-ups, chat rooms, Craig’s Lists and other online forums to meet like-minded people. I have a client whose new friends have come from a monthly ukulele group. Whatever your community looks like it’s time to reach out to them. They may save your life.
It goes even further than this. In Susan Pinker’s ted Talk she lists the top two markers for longevity. It’s not genetics, stopping smoking, obesity, whether or not you’ve had previous health concerns. It’s whether or not you have three or more people you can call for help. And if you have daily social interaction. Her ted talk is worth a listen.
If you are lonely then you need to do something about it. Now. If you are in one of the three cities that host our group the Ducklings then I encourage you to come out and be included. I promise you will be seen and welcomed. If not, find a community group that sparks your interest. Ukulele playing, awe throwing, or not-your-Mother’s-book-club. Your life depends on it.