Friends for (Health) Life

Which ship has two mates but no captain? Answer: friendship.

And speaking of ships, my oldest daughter, whose birthday just happens to be today, so Happy Birthday, Dalena!, recently moved to another city and asked if she could hold her annual Murder Mystery birthday party at home so that her friends could come. The theme was Cruising for Murder, and it took place on a cruise ship. Get it? What a party! Long story short, it was wonderful to see her celebrating with her friends. While that group has been friends for a few years, there are two who have been around for a while. Dalena met Jamie 22 years ago, and Danika about 18 years ago.

They’ve been through some of life’s major moments, such as graduation, college, travel, marriage, babies, career ups and downs, and moves. You know, all the things you do in your twenties and thirties. They share a special bond, a bond that time and place can not weaken. I don’t know if they are aware of that yet, but someday, when they are old and grey (hahaha), they will look back and smile. (Ah yes, mom did know what she was talking about.)

As usual, I do know what I’m talking about. I’m blessed to have a couple of “old” friends. And I say old lightly. I met Laurie in Grade 5, and Mary Beth in Grade 7. So, let’s say, 50 years, give or take a few. Whew! The things I’ve put up with! Sure, there have been times when I’ve been away from the fray, but I always knew the girls were there. We’ve been through a lot together…marriage, children, divorce, the death of a parent, emotional struggles, health struggles, you name it. But that’s life.

“Positive, meaningful, and supportive relationships with friends and family are critical to health and quality of life in retirement.” –Linda Fried, MD, MPH, Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University (Edward Jones/Age Wave Study)

Even Aristotle touted the benefits of friendship. He said that if we are rich, we need friends to share our wealth and protect our prosperity. He also said if we are poor, we need friendship to provide refuge from misery. He said the young need friendship to teach them the ways of the world. Yet, despite philosophers and other ancient civilizations acknowledging the importance of friendship, it wasn’t until the 1980s that scholars began to take a more serious look at the value of friendship between older adults. Since then, it has been reported that older adults with strong friendships feel greater satisfaction with their lives, feel less lonely, and have more meaning in their lives. Cognitive and physical health is also maintained or even improved because friends encourage each other to stay physically and mentally active.

If you check out this article in the National Library of Medicine, you’ll find a list of some of the studies that have taken place over the last few decades. Basically, studies have shown that friendship can ward off the loneliness that can lead to depression. That, in turn, will strengthen our immune systems and sharpen our memory. People with strong connections to family and friends have a 50% greater chance of outliving those with fewer social ties. Stats Canada reported in 2013 that half of all Canadians said they had five or more close friends, with only 6% saying they had none. It’s interesting to note that about half of Canadians said they had less than 150 Facebook friends, and half said they had 150 or more connections. The average number was 228 friends, ranging from 393 among the 15 to 24 age group to 54 friends among seniors. Huh. How many do you have? I sure don’t have 228! I think it’s quality that counts, not quantity. At least in terms of friends.

The Mayo Clinic also claims that good friends are good for your health. Friendships can increase one’s sense of belonging and purpose, reduce stress, and improve self-confidence. Adults with good social connections show a reduced risk of several health problems, such as depression, high blood pressure, and unhealthy BMI. The Mayo Clinic also says that studies show older adults with meaningful relationships and social support are likely to live longer than those with fewer connections.

OK, we know that having friends is good for our health. So how do we, as older adults, make sure we have enough of that valuable “medicine”?  Friendship occurs in stages: we had friends in school, friends from work, and friends whose kids went to school with ours. We’ve all had friendships that fill a particular gap in our lives at one time or another, and there are friendships based on convenience. But when life changes, kids grow up, you change jobs or retire, and those friendships may fade away. Then it’s time to make new friends. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people since I left my job, but I had to step out of my comfort zone and do things. Some of the people I’ve met through pickleball I now consider friends, and we hang out and share laughs and stories. Collectively, we have a couple things in common, such as pickleball and aging, but individually we have little things that we share. Most of all, we enjoy each other’s company and have a good time when we get together. The nice thing about these friendships is that they are current. They are based on things we have in common now, not on what we did in our earlier years.

There is a good read about friendship and making new friends on Senior Lifestyle. Suggestions include joining an activity group, volunteering, and travelling. Really, it’s all about getting out in the community. I truly hope you can do that, especially now that we have been isolated from each other for so long due to COVID, and that the need to be with others can’t be underestimated.

As for Laurie and Mary Beth, well, I can’t believe that we met 50 years ago and are still friends. Back then, we had no idea where our lives would go, which paths we would travel, or who we would become, and we never dreamed that someday we would be out having lunch reminiscing about the “good ole days”.

So, here’s to good friends. Friends who know all about you but like you anyway. Friends who are always there to give advice, to hear your story, to make you laugh and to let you cry it out. Friends who make you succumb to peer pressure. . .what’s a slice of cheesecake between friends, right Laurie and Mary Beth? (Oh right, there’s no sharing the cheesecake!) Luv ya, girls!

 Interesting Reads and Things:

Edward-Jones-4-Pillars-US-report.pdf (edwardjones.com)

Older Adults Benefit from Strong, Happy Friendships (aarp.org)

Friendship Day – Wikipedia

Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health – Mayo Clinic

Friendship Quotes (8757 quotes) (goodreads.com)

Frientimacy: The 3 Requirements of All Healthy Friendships | Shasta Nelson | TEDxLaSierraUniversity – YouTube

9 Ways To Tell If Your Friends Are Trash | Kristen Newton | TEDxIUPUI – YouTube

Friends theme song – I’ll be there for you – official music video HQ – YouTube

 BEST FRIENDSHIP SONGS | NON-STOP – YouTube

 How friendship affects your brain – Shannon Odell – YouTube

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