THURSDAY, June 16, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to living a long, healthy life, that's what friends are for.
New research from Australia suggests good buddies are even more important than close family ties in helping older people live longer.
For the study, researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide interviewed about 1,500 people aged 70 and older. They asked each participant how much personal and phone contact they had with various social networks, including family and friends. Other factors known to influence longevity, such as socioeconomic status, health and lifestyle, were also considered.
The Adelaide team then tracked the participants' survival over the next 10 years.
Surprisingly, close contact with children and relatives had little impact on survival rates, the researchers report in the current issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
However, people with a strong network of friends and confidants had a much better chance of survival over the 10-year study period than individuals with relatively fewer friends.
This "friendship effect" persisted despite personal losses such as the death of a spouse, or even the relocation of friends to other parts of the country, the researchers found.
Friends may influence health habits, such as smoking or drinking, or going to the doctor when a person has troubling symptoms, the study authors suggested. Friends may also have a significant impact on mood, self-esteem and coping mechanisms during difficult times.
The U.S. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has more about healthy aging.