Listening To Friends And Family Actually Helps Them Live Longer

Being a shoulder to cry on doesn't just make you feel good, it has health benefits too.

One key requirement of any friendship (or any relationship for that matter), is listening to one another. And really listening to people has a huge benefit – it can help your loved ones live longer.

A new study has shown the importance of having a social support system and in particular having people who’ll hear you out when you’re venting. Whether it’s ranting about career stresses, personal lives, or just a good old tangential natter, feeling like you’re listened to can build up your so-called cognitive resilience.

New research in the journal Jama Network Open, which is published by the American Medical Association, found this resilience develops when you have someone you can really chat to.

Cognitive resilience is the ability of the brain to buffer against disease and recover from trauma.

If the brain has a well-developed structure, it can compensate for either physical or mental health challenges. Information can be processed and moved around the damaged parts of the brain, as well as rewiring itself. This can help protect against conditions such as Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Have you listened to a friend today?
MixMedia via Getty Images
Have you listened to a friend today?

The study asked 2,171 adults to document their levels of socialisation based on five types: listening, advice, love-affection, emotional support and sufficient contact.

Using a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine, researchers found participants who had more supportive listening (as a form of support) reported higher levels of cognitive resilience.

The results are particularly interesting as the effects of friendship had not been examined as a potential preventative factor in conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

Cognitive resilience benefits or not, we could all do with listening more to our pals. Irene S Levine, a friendship expert and psychologist, says friendships pretty much depend on this.

“Being able to express joys and frustrations, and feel listened to and accepted, is one of the foundations of close friendships,” she tells HuffPost UK.

“We all want to feel understood and be able to share our real selves without pretence. Not only can friends and loved ones help us solve problems but having someone who just listens seems to reduce stress.

“Friends often tend to feel that they need to offer solutions but just lending an ear can help someone process and work through a problem.”

Here are Levine’s top tips on how to be a great listener:

  • Never multitask while you’re listening. The worst thing you can do is keep your smartphone in your hands while you’re listening to a friend.

  • Set aside sufficient time to listen. Don’t make important conversations rushed.

  • Try to resist the temptation to tell your own woes when a friend needs you to listen.

  • If you can’t get together physically, use Facetime or Zoom.

  • Ask questions that suggest you want to hear more, but try not to be invasive when a friend wants to keep something private.

  • From time to time, repeat back what you’re hearing so your friend can know you are listening and understand.

What are you waiting for? Go listen to a friend today.