Why friendship is crucial to health and wellbeing

Friendship isn’t only good for the soul, it’s a fundamental part of keeping well; a fact backed up by scientific evidence.

Joy, laughter and some moral support might be the key things we seek from our friendships. But its benefits go much further. For years, scientists have noted that companionship plays a big part in our health, with the Royal College of Nursing noting that loneliness can increase the likelihood of early death by 26%. It’s time we take loneliness seriously; it’s not just as source of unhappiness, but as a health condition affecting so many ageing adults.

The loneliness epidemic 

According to Age UK, there are 1.4m chronically lonely older people in the UK, with that number expected to increase to 2m by 2026 given our ageing population.

Sadly, ageing adults are particularly vulnerable when it comes to loneliness. With many of them having lost a spouse, family and friends, that support network has only reduced as the years have gone by. Add to the mix family members living far away, and it’s easy to see how so many ageing adults feel socially isolated.

Why friendship is crucial to health and wellbeing at Home Instead

What is the science of friendship? 

Studies suggest that loneliness and social isolation increases long-term inflammation. This involves the body producing chemicals that fight infection unnecessarily, which can cause serious health problems. A University of Surrey study found that socially isolated people tend to have higher levels of two inflammatory chemicals: C-reactive protein which can mean a higher risk of heart attacks, and fibrinogen which increases the chances of blood clots. There is a clear link between loneliness and bad health.

Why friendship is crucial to health and wellbeing

The link between companionship and good health is just as clear. Oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin are all ‘feel good’ hormones, and one thing they are triggered by is friendship. Their benefits go beyond happiness and can also help with learning ability, memory, appetite, sleep and digestion. As we age, maintaining physical and mental health becomes increasingly crucial, and extra effort is needed to keep our faculties in check. Friendship can be the best prescription.

Nutrition, medication and exercise are all natural considerations when maintaining health. But it’s crucial that companionship plays as much of a part, particularly for the many elderly people who seriously lack in social interaction. Age UK offers services and support for ageing adults who need company, from befriending services to day centres. Not everyone has the confidence to reach out and get help though. That’s why it lies with us all to build relationships with elderly people, give them the support to maintain their social interaction, and give their health and wellbeing a boost.