The old expression “blood is thicker than water” holds true for longevity, according to a new study.
Older adults who report being close to family members are more than twice as likely to be alive five years later than those who are close to friends.1
The study looked at social relationships among 3,000 people between the ages of 57 and 85. They were asked to list five of their closest companions and how close they felt to them. Excluding spouses, people listed an average of 2.91 confidantes who they perceived as providing high levels of emotional support.
Then researchers revisited the group five years later. Those who had reported that they felt “extremely close” to a non-spousal family member had about a 6% chance of dying during the five years. Those who reported closeness to friends—but not family—had a 14% chance of dying.2
Dr. James Iveniuk is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health. He is the lead author of the study.
“We found that older individuals who had more family in their network, as well as older people who were closer with their family were less likely to die,” he said. “No such associations were observed for friends.
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The researchers were surprised by the findings. After all, you can choose your friends but not your family. “You might be better able to customize your friend network to meet your specific needs,” said Dr. Iveniuk.3
Instead, the data shows “It is the people you cannot choose, and who also have little choice about choosing you, who seem to provide the greatest benefit to longevity,” he said.
Dr. Iveniuk noted that family members bring certain advantages to a relationship. They share a bond since birth. They may be more comfortable with each other because of their shared past. And they may have the authority to make health decisions for each other. Family members may also be more willing to help each other financially.4
Family members tend to be permanent fixtures in your life. But friends may come and go, Dr. Iveniuk said.
Being Close to Family Extends Life
Interestingly, a marriage, even a bad one, has a positive effect on longevity, the study shows.5
The bottom line? Being socially active is important to good health as you get older. But being close to your family is particularly crucial. Even keeping in touch with them through email and social media may have benefits.6
Don’t pass up opportunities to be with family members, even if they are not your favorite people. They may drive you crazy sometimes, but they provide health benefits nobody else can.
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In Good Health,
Executive Director, INH Health Watch