We’re not sure if this research factors in the dumb decisions some friends can encourage us to make...but biologically, yes, friends do help us live longer.
More and more research is explaining the direct translation of our social health on our physical and mental health. Loneliness on the one hand, or social connection on the other, affects your immune system, cognitive health, cardiovascular health, and stress responses.
Lydia Denworth, science journalist and author of “Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond,” explains that these biological effects go a step further. Social health can actually affect the rate at which our cells age.
The cap on our cells, called telomeres, naturally shortens as we age, until the cell can no longer divide and dies. For those who are lonely, these telomeres shorten faster, which means they are biologically aging faster.
With this in mind, Denworth explains that loneliness is a serious biological warning. “Loneliness is your body’s signal that you need to connect, just like thirst and hunger are a signal that you need to eat or drink.”
Research such as Denworth’s points to these large warning signs that many today are experiencing. Now we need to act on these warnings, with positive social connection.
Though this information may be concerning, it doesn't need to be. Just like we know to eat (and often enjoy it) when we're hungry, let's be intentional about seeking social connection for ourselves and people we care about. Ideally friends who won’t encourage us to do dangerous things...but to each their own. Not only will it improve our health, but our happiness too.