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Here to help: how friendships can help your health

[NEW YORK] Most of the research on health and relationships is focused on romantic partners. But researchers have found that our friendships actually have a bigger impact on our health. Here are some of the findings about the health benefits of having friends.

A 10-YEAR AUSTRALIAN STUDY found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 per cent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer.

IN 2006, A STUDY OF NEARLY 3,000 NURSES with breast cancer found that women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends. Notably, proximity and the amount of contact with a friend wasn't associated with survival. Just having friends was protective.

IN A SIX-YEAR STUDY of 736 middle-age Swedish men, being attached to a life partner didn't affect the risk of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease, but having friendships did.

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Friendships make ageing easier. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and author, has studied the health habits of people who live in regions of the world where people live far longer than the average. He found that positive friendships are a common theme. In Okinawa, Japan, where the average life expectancy for women is around 90, the highest in the world, people form a kind of social network called a moai — a group of five friends who offer social, logistic, emotional and even financial support for a lifetime. In a moai, the group benefits when things go well, and the group's families support one another. They also appear to influence one another's lifelong health behaviors.

NYTIMES