Keep your friends close, but your family closer if you want to live a longer life. A research team from the University of Toronto's School of Public Health and University of Chicago presented a new body of research at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, which revealed having strong friendships with family members later in life is the key to decreasing the risk of dying. 

To compare power of friendships versus family bonds, researchers analyzed data from 2005 to 2006 and followed up with a second round of data collection five years later. Participants between the ages of 57 to 85 years old were asked to list their five closest confidants, rate each one in terms of closeness, and to provide a detailed description of the relationships. After discounting husbands and wives, researchers crunched the numbers and found when older adults reported feeling “extremely close” to a family member, they had a 6 percent chances of dying within the next five years. Meanwhile, those who ranked family members are “not very close” had a 14 percent chance of dying

Family Ties Family is more important to your health than friendships. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

"Because you can choose your friends, you might expect that relationships with friends would be more important for mortality, since you might be better able to customize your friend network to meet your specific needs," said James Iveniuk, the lead author of the study and a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Toronto, in a statement. "But it is the people who in some sense you cannot choose, and who also have little choice about choosing you, who seem to provide the greatest benefit to longevity.”

Iveniuk was surprised to find being closer to family members helped lower a person’s risk of death, but the same was no true for friendships. Participants were also asked questions about their marriages, health, and to rate their levels of loneliness. Researchers found those who were married, had a larger network of friends, were more social, and felt closer to their confidants, were the least likely to die within the next five years. 

Iveniuk added, however, the quality of the marriage didn’t matter. It just mattered that they were married. ”We observed no association between support from the spouse and mortality, indicating that a marital bond may be more important for longevity than the bond itself.” 

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Source: Iveniuk J and Schumm LP. Social Relationships and Mortality in Older Adulthood. 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. 2016.