The Hard Facts: Friends Are the Ultimate Anti-Aging Secret

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Afraid of becoming disabled in old age, not being able to dress yourself or walk up and down the stairs? Staying physically active before symptoms set in could help. But so could going out to eat, playing bingo and taking overnight trips… A person who reported a high level of social activity was about twice as likely to remain free of a disability involving activities of daily living than a person with a low level of social activity, and about 1.5 times as likely to remain free of disability involving instrumental activities of daily living or mobility.” (“Higher Levels of Social Activity Decrease the Risk of Developing Disability in Old Age,” Science Daily, 2/17/2011)

I am continually amazed at how important being socially integrated is to one’s health. I launched my BFF search in order to find partners for playdates, but it seems I might have earned the added gift of extra years—healthy, physically able, mentally competent years—on my life.

Thank God, too, because this search did nothing good for my workout routine or healthy diet (damn those wine calories). Clearly the best plan is to do both—working out with friends is a long-life twofer—but at least my girls nights haven’t been for nothing.

This particular study looked at 954 adults with the average age of 82, none of whom had any disabilities to start. In this case, disability was defined as the ability to “perform six daily activities without help: feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring and walking across a small room. They were also asked whether they could perform three tasks that require mobility and strength: walking up and down a flight of stairs, walking a half mile and doing heavy housework. Finally, they were asked about their ability to perform what are referred to as ‘instrumental’ activities of daily living, such as using the telephone, preparing meals and managing medications.”

(Let’s just take a moment to recognize the ridiculousness and amazingness of the word “toileting.” Really??)

The results found that staying social doubled your chances of performing the bathing, feeding, toileting etc, and increased by one-and-a-half your ability to do the tougher stuff like walk a half-mile (not easy in your 80s!) and managing medication.

Personally, I’m pretty keen on the idea of toileting all by lonesome for as long as possible. I’m less interested in doing heavy housework into my 80s, but I guess we can’t have it all.

If you’re teetering on the brink of a friend search, what most motivates you to get out there and give it a shot? The research about the benefits to physical health and survival? Or the more personal stories of  successful friend-pickup attempts?

4 Comments

Filed under The Search

4 responses to “The Hard Facts: Friends Are the Ultimate Anti-Aging Secret

  1. The personal success stories are what do it for me…as well as the pleasing anticipation of having new friends to pal around with. I guess the emotional side is a bigger trigger for me than the physical side.

  2. Megan

    But how difficult it is to find friends when you’re that age (not to mention maintaining ones you’ve had since your younger years!). What I’d like to see is someone in their 80s doing what Rachel is doing here (not that it’s easy for those in our age group either!)

  3. Maria

    This research is so true. Especially because as we grow older it is more likely that we may lose our spouse. Having a support system of friends makes life so much easier. If you have friends then your social life isn’t taken away from you at the same time you loose your spouse.

  4. Lorrie Paige

    The benefits of health and companionship are two things that motivates me.

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