WASHINGTON, DC — Good relationships with family and friends are key components of happy, healthy and longer lives, according to a study that has been ongoing for more than 80 years.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development was started in 1938 and is perhaps the longest running research program in medical history, according to Dan Weber, president of the Association of Mature American Citizens.
Its aim was – and still is – to provide insight into how people age. And, according to Dr. Robert Waldinger, who heads up the study, the research shows that "people who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier, healthier and live longer than people who are less well connected."
The original study group consisted of 268 Harvard sophomores, including John F. Kennedy, who would become the 35th president of the United States. Only 19 of the original participants in the study are still alive today and they are all in their mid-90s. But, in 2015 a second phase of the study was initiated to include the offspring of the original participants.
"The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation," says Dr. Waldinger.
He notes that the original research showed that individuals who had satisfying relationships in their 50s were the healthiest in their 80s. Phase two of the study seeks to determine how early events in our lives help shape our well being in middle age and beyond.
AMAC’s Weber adds that there is a considerable amount of corroborating research that shows our social connections in life are critical elements of the quality of our lives, particularly in our senior years. He cites a massive study of more than 300,000 people conducted some time ago that showed good social relationships can increase life expectancy by as much as 50%.
Studies also show that an active and satisfying social life may also protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in later life, according to Weber.
"The focus on the benefits of socializing and good personal relationships is becoming more important in an era when medical science is extending our lifespans," he concludes.