When we get slammed with overbooked schedules and impossible workloads, one of the first things we sacrifice is making time for friends. In the big scheme of things, social commitments seem the most superfluous when your plate is full, so they're the first to get cut from your calendar when push comes to shove. As much as you love your friends, how often have you texted "can we reschedule?" just hours before you're supposed to meet up? When life comes at you fast, or even after a particularly long workday, we have a tendency to take a rain check on our friendships.
But new research finds that this common habit could actually be aging you. A study from earlier this year sponsored by the National Institute of Aging and designed by Michigan State University psychology professor William J. Chopik investigated how friendships impact health and aging in older individuals. The findings were that friendships actually outweighed family relationships in the extent they impact your health, especially from age 65 on. "Strong family ties were linked to happiness, but their importance stayed about the same over the life span."
Another surprising finding was that "strain" within friendships had an enormous impact on the individual's well-being—those experiencing strain were more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and psychiatric problems. On the other hand, strain with family wasn't connected to illness. "Friendship quality often predicts health more so than the quality of other relationships," writes Chopik. While the study focused on older individuals, it does underscore the importance of taking care of the friendships we forge in our youth. While it's easy to make and sustain friendships through school—when we have the leisure time and are surrounded by others our own age—it proves more difficult once we enter adulthood and the workforce. Making it a priority to nurture your friendships now can help build a healthy network you can lean on as you get older, which is important since friendships can be hard to find.
In addition to making time for friends, people who age gracefully do these three things every day.