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Good friends are good for your health

Saturday - 12/8/2012, 12:47pm  ET

Randi Martin, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The power of friendship is the new prescription for good health, according to researchers and doctors.

Friends could be the powerful tool that fights off illness and depression and helps people recover faster, age slower and perhaps even live longer.

"The reason friends tend to come to the forefront is because they tend to have more in common with us than the members of our family," says Rebecca Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. "In our culture, we place such an emphasis on family as the first point of contact when you have any issues that we hadn't really focused enough on what friendship can bring."

Studies published in the last 10 years found that older people with large circles of friends outlived those with fewer friends by 22 percent.

A Harvard study reported that strong social ties could promote brain health as humans age. Carnegie Mellon University studies showed that friends can help cope with stress.

Good friends may even reduce a person's chances of catching a cold.

"When we go through something like getting a new job or graduating from college, or becoming a widow or retiring or having our first child, it's our friends who are likely to be going through the same things," Adams says.

She says people lean on their friends and work on maintaining and keeping that bond, no matter how old they are.

"Old friends, in particular are close to our hearts," Adams says. "Probably because we've shared those basic formative experiences with them, when people talk about their friends and list their friends and say how close they are to their friends, the oldest friends tend to be the closest."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)