Adelaide: A 10-year study of nearly 1,500 people aged over 70 has discovered that those with a network of good friends live longer than those who don’t.
The findings are based on data from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging (ALSA), which began in 1992 in Adelaide, South Australia. ALSA addresses the impact of economic, social, behavioral and environmental factors on the health of people 70 and up. Participants in the study and provided information on their direct and phone contact with social networks including children, relatives
“Survival time may be enhanced by strong social networks,” said Lynne Giles, one of the researchers.Among older Australians, these may be important in lengthening survival.
Contact with children and other family members had little impact on the 10-year survival, the report found. A network of good friends was, in statistical terms, equivalent to a 22 per cent reduction in the risk of dying during this period when compared to those who had close ties with their children or relatives.
The positive effect of having the support of friends was evident even if the person had been through major changes such as the death of a spouse or close family members, and the relocation of friends to other parts of the country.
Ms Giles and her colleagues assessed how economic, social, behavioural and environmental factors affected the health of elderly people.
The researchers monitored the participants annually for the first four years of the study and then at three-year intervals. They also considered the impact of other factors such as health, lifestyle and socioeconomic status.
“We have shown that greater social networks with friends and confidants had significant protective effects against mortality over a 10-year follow-up period,” said Ms Giles.
The scientists suspect friends help to increase longevity by influencing behaviour such as smoking and drinking and providing friendship during difficult times.