“In poverty and other misfortunes … true friends are a sure refuge,” said the philosopher Aristotle. And recent studies show that friendships also can lengthen our lives.
According to a 2010 review of 148 studies, published recently in PLoS Medicine, people with more social connections had a 50 percent greater chance of outliving those with weaker social ties. The studies looked at the size and function of a social network – for example, whether people had a confidant in time of need.
“The greater the social resources, the greater the odds of survival,” says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, lead author of the review and associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. “The interesting thing was that the protective effect of social relationships was [the same] for both healthy adults and those with chronic illnesses.”
If your social life could use a lift, here are four ways to meet new people and nourish old bonds.
Join a group. “Community and neighborhood organizations, schools and church groups are all places where you can create new relationships,” says Holt-Lunstad.
Seeking places where you might share interests with others can help people feel good about themselves, says Debra Greenberg, PhD, a senior psychiatric social worker in the Geriatrics Division of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. “It makes them feel connected.”
Go online. A 2010 Spanish study of 400 people ages 64 to 80, published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, found that email makes seniors feel less isolated and more involved with life. Online forums foster new connections.
Use your phone. A 2004 study at Leeds University in England found that the telephone was particularly important to social life among older people, especially those who had trouble getting out and about. These days, you can even take classes over the telephone. “For instance, we have a program in New York City, University Without Walls, where people over 65 can take classes for a small fee and have intellectual contacts,” says Greenberg
Volunteer. “Offer to read to kids, spend time in an organization you feel strongly about, be part of the neighborhood patrol in your building or volunteer at a library,” says Greenberg. If you find that you’re not as socially engaged as you once were, “Ask yourself what you used to do that you aren’t doing now and then find a way to get it back in your life.” Contact your local Arthritis Foundation office to learn about volunteer opportunities.