Having a few good friends — or many — has always been golden. And as you age, those friendships may become even more important.

If you’re in your sixties or beyond, friendships aren’t just the social glue and glitz of life: As you get older, good friendships can dispel loneliness, improve your health, boost your sense of well-being, and even add to your years.

“Friends Aren’t Just for Fun: They Can Be Lifesaving, Too”

Loneliness stemming from having too few friends doesn’t just potentially spiral you into a state of depression: It could even shorten your lifespan. If you’re not the type to have many friends, be assured that quality may be more important than quantity, says Rosemary Blieszner, PhD, an alumni distinguished professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, and an expert in human development and aging. If you have at least one person who understands you — a friend you feel you can tell anything — that’s enough to contribute to your feelings of well-being, she says.

Social interaction, regardless of how many friends are ideal for you, helps keep your thinking and cognitive skills sharp, Dr. Blieszner says. “People who are socially isolated and not stimulated are the ones who tend to have lower cognitive ability in old age.” Besides keeping your mind fit, friends can help with your physical health, too. “Friends encourage you to eat well, to get your checkups and exercise, and to go to the health club or play with your dog,” Blieszner says.

“There can be a connection between the health habits you’re making and how that might be influenced by friends,” she says. If they’re healthy and encourage you, you gain benefits.

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