In the endless battle against ageing, it’s easy to focus solely on diet and exercise.
Making sure you’re following a Mediterranean-style diet, which the new Netflix show Live To 100: Secrets Of The Blue Zones demonstrated was the best way to live healthily and for longer, getting your steps in everyday, not smoking or drinking too much. We all know what’s good and bad for our bodies.
But did you know that socialising and having quality friendships is actually up there as one of the best things you can do for your mental health, physical health, and chances of ageing well into later life? Yes, those group chats are worth something after all…
A recent podcast episode from the nutrition science company Zoe saw Zoe co-founder Jonathan Wolf and Professor Rose Ann Kenny, a world-leading geriatrician at the Trinity College in Dublin, come together to chat about how socialising can help us live longer.
At one point, Wolf asks, “Can having more friends actually keep me healthier?” and Professor Kenny simply responds with, “Am I allowed to say? Absolutely, yes.”
Why do friendships keep us young?
She goes on to explain the biological reasons behind why socialising is so good for us:
“We’ve evolved to need other people. If you take macaque monkeys and you isolate a monkey, do a biopsy of their lymph node, the genes which are good for the immune system had been downregulated.
“And then we know in humans, all of the inflammatory markers we frequently measure are also higher in people who have poor social networks, social engagement, or who experience loneliness,” she explains.
A 2011 study looking into the links between people’s quality of relationships and how much inflammation they experience in their body showed that, across their entire lifespan, people who have “supportive close relationships have lower levels of systemic inflammation compared to people who have cold, unsupportive, conflict-ridden relationships.”
Interestingly, it’s not just our current relationships that are associated with inflammation, but past relationships as well. So you can thank that fuck boy who left you on read for that.
So, how to seek out friendships that are good quality, and aren’t “cold, unsupportive and conflict-ridden”?
You can start by being a good friend yourself. It’s easy to point fingers, but are you being a good listener? Are you checking in regularly enough?
Seek out people who respect your time, interests and want to spend time with you. If your current friends just aren’t that interested, you don’t need to have a big blow-out; just start spending time more with the people that make you feel good.
Cultivate a community. A lot of the learnings from the Blue Zones show that people bond over activities going on in their communities…. Men playing chess in the street, women sharing recipes that have been passed down through generations. Find your passion and reach out to people nearby who might be into the same thing.
And one key takeaway: Before you turn your group chat notifications off, consider that your besties could be extending your lifespan!