Having close friendships can help you get through difficult times and provide plenty of company with whom to celebrate the good times. But recent research suggests that maintaining warm, trusting friendships may also help slow cognitive decline and memory problems.

A study published in PLOS One found that the majority of people age 80 and older who have the cognitive ability of people in their 50s and 60s (called Super Agers) report having more high-quality, satisfying friendships than their same-age peers who have fewer close friends. The researchers also measured the cortex in the brain of all participants, and found that the cortexes of Super Agers were larger on average than those of their peers who did not have strong social networks.

While the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between friendships and cognitive ability, other studies have suggested some possible reasons for this association. One is that friendships and other close relationships give a person purpose, even if it’s just to meet for coffee or accompany someone to a medical check-up. Friends can also be good motivators for each other when it comes to exercising. If you and a friend go for a brisk walk every morning, you don’t want to be the one to miss it without a good reason. Likewise, if your friends tend to eat healthfully and live a healthy lifestyle, you’ll be more inclined to do the same.

If you already have some good friends, reach out and help cement those bonds. If you need to make new friends at this point in your life, try to find people who share your interests, whether it’s at a health club, a history lecture or in a class.


This article originally appeared in Mind, Mood & Memory, a publication of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, dedicated to maintaining mental fitness for middle age and beyond.

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