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Number of Friends Linked to Longevity

Update Date: Jan 20, 2015 07:46 PM EST
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Having many friends could boost longevity, according to a new study.

Researchers from Concordia University found evidence that social integration influences are mental and physical health.

The five-month study involved a sample of international students who lived in Montreal. Participants who built better support networks were healthier, according to their heart rates.

Participants were asked to fill out questionnaires and have their heart rates monitored for five months. Researchers said they focused on detecting changes in high-frequency heart rate variability or fluctuations.

Researchers explained that heart rate fluctuations predict the health of the parasympathetic nervous system.

"Other research has shown that individuals with a lower heart rate variability are at increased risk for the development of poor health, including greater risk for cardiac diseases. Therefore, decreases in heart rate variability are bad for you," Jean-Philippe Gouin, a Concordia psychology professor, said in a news release.

Study results revealed that immigrants who made friends had increases in heart rate variability, whereas those who remained isolated showed a decrease in heart rate variability.

"In the weeks and months that follow a major move, people often find it hard to make new friends and establish a solid social network," Gouin, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Chronic Stress and Health. "This study shows that such prolonged social isolation can have a negative effect on physical health by impacting our parasympathetic functioning. That applies not just to international students but to anyone moving to a new country or city or anyone experiencing major social changes."

Researchers said that the findings suggest that making friendships boosts mental and physical wellbeing.

"The message is clear: Reach out to other people. The more quickly you manage to integrate socially in your new home, the healthier you'll be. It's easier said than done, but it's worth it," Gouin concluded.

The findings were published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

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