Science has proven what anyone who’s suffered through Thanksgiving dinners with drunk, mean, or just plain annoying family members already know: friends are better for your health.

Read: Being Lonely Might Be Keeping You Awake At Night

In two studies made up of 280,000 people, researchers from the University of Michigan determined that friendships play a larger role in keeping us healthy and happy, more so than family relationships, particularly in those golden years.

In the first study, more than 271,000 people of all ages completed surveys detailing their social relationships, well-being and feelings of contentment. Participants represented nearly 100 countries. The second piece of research analyzed data to determine how relationships were related to chronic health problems in more than 7,000 adults in the United States.

“Friendships become even more important as we age,” says William Chopik, study co-author and assistant professor of psychology, in a statement. “Keeping a few really good friends around can make a world of difference for our health and well-being. So it’s smart to invest in the friendships that make you happiest.”

However, some friendships can take a toll on your health, namely those that elicit stress. So if you have frenemies, or a BFF whose antics make you side eye, it might be best to drop them before becoming AARP eligible. If you have trouble letting go, Chopik says it will likely happen anyway as we tend to maintain friendships that make us feel good and phase out those which don’t.

This isn’t the first study stressing the importance of having a bestie. In 2012, Dutch researchers found that lonely older adults were more likely to develop dementia. While married people do have their spouses for support, studies show that friendships are actually more beneficial.

“There are now a few studies starting to show just how important friendships can be for older adults,” says Chopik. “Summaries of these studies show that friendships predict day-to-day happiness more and ultimately how long we’ll live, more so than spousal and family relationships.”

Despite being more important with age, friendships often take a back seat to dating, work and child-rearing commitments. Author Julie Klam writes about the importance of caring for relationships in her book, Friendkeeping.

Read: Inside The World Of Bromances, And What Makes Them Different From Regular Friendships

"Your priorities change so much," Klam says to NPR. "And our time gets so filled with work or family or whatever that [friendship] always seems to be the thing that takes the back seat. It's something you don't have to do. You have to work on the weekend, you have to take your kid to soccer, you have to ... whatever, do some family commitment. And friendship is always sort of choices of things."

But putting in the work to maintain a squad is worth the effort.

“Friendships help us stave off loneliness but are often harder to maintain across the lifespan,” explains Chopik. “If a friendship has survived the test of time, you know it must be a good one – a person you turn to for help and advice often and a person you wanted in your life.”

See Also:

Your Smartphone Is Making You Lonely: People Treat Their Phones Like Their Real-Life Best Friends: Study

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