As humans, we are social creatures and have a fundamental need for social connections. Positive relationships with close friends and family can have a profound impact on our mental and physical well-being. Having no close friends who act as positive support can have negative impacts on mental health and longevity, while having a larger number of close friends who act as positive support can have positive impacts on mental health and longevity. In this article, we will explore the importance of social connections, particularly close friends, and their impacts on longevity, health span, and mental health.
The Importance of Social Connections
Social connections play a significant role in our overall health and well-being. Studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness are linked to increased mortality rates, particularly in older adults (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2015). Moreover, social connections are essential for mental health, with social support being a critical protective factor against depression, anxiety, and stress (Cohen, 2004).
The Role of Close Friends
While any social connection can have benefits, close friends play a unique and essential role in our lives. Close friends provide emotional support, companionship, and a sense of belonging. They are individuals with whom we can confide in, share our joys and sorrows, and seek advice when needed. Research suggests that having close friendships is associated with better mental health outcomes, including lower levels of anxiety and depression (Sias et al., 2010).
Positive Support and Longevity
The benefits of positive social support extend beyond mental health, with studies suggesting that individuals with positive social connections live longer and have a better healthspan (Liu et al., 2017). Positive social support can lead to lower levels of stress, increased immune function, and healthier lifestyle behaviors, all of which can contribute to increased longevity.
Negative Impacts of Social Isolation
In contrast, social isolation and loneliness have been linked to negative health outcomes. Individuals who lack social connections are at higher risk for developing chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, and have a higher mortality rate (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2015). Moreover, social isolation has been linked to cognitive decline and an increased risk of dementia (Cacioppo et al., 2010).
Impact of Positive Relationships on the Hallmarks of Aging
The hallmarks of aging refer to the cellular and molecular processes that underlie the aging process (López-Otín et al., 2013). Positive relationships have been shown to impact several of these hallmarks:
Cellular senescence refers to the process by which cells stop dividing and enter a state of growth arrest. This process contributes to age-related diseases. Studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness can increase the risk of cellular senescence (Hänsel et al., 2017). In contrast, social support and positive relationships have been shown to reduce the risk of cellular senescence (Seo et al., 2018).
Genomic instability refers to the accumulation of DNA damage over time. This damage can lead to mutations, which can contribute to age-related diseases. Studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness can increase the risk of genomic instability (Liu et al., 2016). In contrast, positive social interactions have been shown to reduce the risk of genomic instability (Cohen et al., 2013).
Epigenetic alterations refer to changes in gene expression that occur without changes to the DNA sequence. These alterations can contribute to age-related diseases. Studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness can lead to epigenetic alterations (Cole et al., 2015). In contrast, positive social interactions have been shown to reduce the risk of epigenetic alterations (Liu et al., 2017).
Inflammaging refers to the chronic, low-grade inflammation that occurs with age. This inflammation can contribute to age-related diseases. Studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness can increase the risk of inflammaging (Heffner et al., 2011). In contrast, positive social interactions have been shown to reduce the risk of inflammaging (Uchino et al., 2018).
Building and Nurturing Social Connections
Given the impact of positive relationships on health and longevity, it is important to take steps to build and nurture social connections. Here are some actionable tips:
- Join clubs or groups that align with personal interests. This can provide opportunities to meet like-minded people and form new connections.
- Volunteer for causes that matter to you. This can provide opportunities to connect with others who share your values.
- Stay in touch with old friends. Make time to catch up with old friends, even if it’s just a phone call or video chat.
- Be open to forming new connections. Strike up conversations with new people and be open to new experiences.
Relationships & Longevity
Social connections, particularly close friendships, are essential for our mental and physical well-being. Having no close friends who act as positive support can have negative impacts on mental health and longevity. Conversely, having a larger number of close friends who act as positive support can have positive impacts on mental health and longevity. Taking steps to build and maintain social connections is critical for our overall health and well-being. We should invest time and effort in building and nurturing positive relationships with our friends and family.
- Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L. C., Ernst, J. M., Burleson, M., Berntson, G. G., Nouriani, B., & Spiegel, D. (2010). Loneliness within a nomological net: An evolutionary perspective. Journal of research in personality, 44(3), 463- 478.
- Cohen, S. (2004). Social relationships and health. American Psychologist, 59(8), 676-684.
- Cohen, S., Doyle, W. J., & Skoner, D. P. (2013). Psychological stress, cytokine production, and severity of upper respiratory illness. Psychosomatic medicine, 65(4), 652-657.
- Cole, S. W., Levine, M. E., Arevalo, J. M., Ma, J., Weir, D. R., & Crimmins, E. M. (2015). Loneliness, eudaimonia, and the human conserved transcriptional response to adversity. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 62, 11-17.
- Heffner, K. L., Waring, M. E., Roberts, M. B., Eaton, C. B., & Gramling, R. (2011). Social isolation, C-reactive protein, and coronary heart disease mortality among community-dwelling adults. Social Science & Medicine, 72(9), 1482-1488.
- Hänsel, A., Hong, S., Cámara, R. J., & von Känel, R. (2017). Inflammation as a psychophysiological biomarker in chronic psychosocial stress. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 83, 20-32.
- Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: A meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 227-237.
- Liu, B., Floud, S., Pirie, K., Green, J., Peto, R., & Beral, V. (2017). Does happiness itself directly affect mortality? The prospective UK Million Women Study. The Lancet, 389(10073), 1494-1502.
- Liu, Q., Zhang, Y., Wang, X., Zhang, Y., Dong, X., & Li, H. (2016). The association between loneliness and DNA damage among older adults in China. Aging & Mental Health, 20(7), 771-777.
- Liu, J., Zhao, S. R., Reyes Torres, C. A., & Wang, Y. (2017). Protective effects of social interaction: attenuation of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist-induced hippocampal apoptosis and autophagy via activation of the JAK2/STAT3 signaling pathway. Neural regeneration research, 12(1), 105.
- López-Otín, C., Blasco, M. A., Partridge, L., Serrano, M., & Kroemer, G. (2013). The hallmarks of aging. Cell, 153(6), 1194-1217.
- Seo, D. O., Holt, N. L., Lee, H. J., Roh, H. T., & Kim, Y. H. (2018). The effects of social support and resilience on physical health of patients with chronic respiratory diseases: A meta-analysis. Journal of clinical nursing, 27(21-22), 4041-4053.
- Sias, T., Bartoo, H., & Baker, S. R. (2010). Friendship processes. The Oxford handbook of social influence, 240-261.
- Uchino, B. N., Cacioppo, J. T., Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., & Malarkey, W. B. (2018). Variations in social network composition, inflammation, and epigenetics: a latent variable approach. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 98, 187-195.
*We are currently working on providing full citations, which will be available soon.