Sex & Life
Sex & Life February 15, 2017
From TV commercials promoting botox to the plethora of young women smiling from billboards, youth is obviously valued in today’s society. You may not know, however, that making younger friends could be the secret to feeling happier and living longer.
To find out exactly what benefits you can expect from befriending a younger crowd, ENTITY recently chatted with Dr. Karen Fingerman, Director of the Portfolio in Aging & Heath and the Aging Network at The University of Texas at Austin, Mark Vernon, psychotherapist and author of “The Meaning of Friendship,” and Jon Nussbaum, Penn State professor who studies communicative behavior.
Research shows that only five percent of those over 65 regularly interact with younger people. Here are five reasons you should strive to be part of that 5 percent!
Considering that the global anti-aging market expected to reach a whopping $216.52 billion by 2021, people are still searching for a modern “fountain of youth.” Yet, we may have been staring at the (cheap) solution to aging this whole time: the people all around us. As Dr. Fingerman explains, “Research shows that having a variety of social ties to family and to friends is linked to better psychological well-being, better cognitive functioning, and longer life. Sociologists call this ‘social integration.’ So having friends (as well as family) matters.”
In fact, studies have found that when older men and women drop in social activity by one point (on a scale of 1 to 5), they experience physical decline 33 percent times faster. Loneliness has also been shown to cause the same physical harm as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and lonely people are reportedly 45 percent more likely to die earlier than their social counterparts. And just to prove that it’s never too soon to start preparing for the future…researchers say that the state of your social life in your 20s and 30s can predict your degree of well-being, anxiety and depression in the future.
Sure, exercising, eating a well-rounded diet and saving up money are all important and helpful ways to age gracefully. However, don’t forget to enjoy plenty of Vitamin C – companionship – along the way.
When you hear the phrase “mentor,” you might imagine an older, wiser version of yourself. However, more companies are discovering the benefits of “reverse mentoring” – or pairing senior executives with millennial workers.
Before you start worrying about taking orders from someone years younger, know this: the mentor-mentee relationship is usually equal, with each person sharing their own expertise. As Jon Nussbaum explains, younger friends are particularly helpful in creating a “social network” and providing a greater “connection to the community.” After all, research shows that 75 percent of millennials have a social networking site profile – and, most likely, social networking skills – compared to only 30 percent of Boomers (age 46-64).
With reverse mentoring, younger workers might share their technology tricks while senior members share their own insights and advice for the job, garnered from years of experience. What does all of this mean for your job productivity? You’ll not only be able to stay more engaged in your work and discover new skills to apply to it, but you’ll also feel more connected to younger employees. Helping shape your company’s future is a just a very satisfying bonus!
Speaking of learning new skills, younger friends can also be the key to keeping your brain and knowledge of popular culture up to speed. “Young people think about ideas in different ways and have been exposed to different technologies,” says Dr. Fingerman. “They also might be more physically active than older friends (though that really depends as many older friends are active, too).” Jon Nussbaum agrees, pointing out that younger friends can offer “different experiences, ideas and challenges” than friends one’s own age.
While learning that Lady Gaga performed at the Super Bowl this year or going on daily walks may not sound like much, research shows that new activities and exercise are secret weapons to keeping your brain young. As we age, the neurons in our brain (responsible for carrying messages and thoughts) start to decline. However, studies have shown that aerobic exercise can strengthen your neurons. (Keeping your figure is just an added plus). Similarly, studies have found that new activities – ranging from puzzles to trivia games to tango classes – can train your brain to stay youthful and fast.
Basically? Younger friends aren’t just good for knowing who’s who and what’s going on in today’s culture. They can also be the motivation you need to get your body and mind movin’ – and enjoy plenty of anti-aging benefits for your brain!
Of course, you aren’t the only one benefiting from these friendships. You can also pass on your wisdom to, and act as the emotional “rock” for, your younger friends. As Mark Vernon explains, “There is an inwardness that develops with age. It is grounded and rooted, and often slightly less self-obsessed and therefore freer.” Have you ever needed friends to vent to about your breakup – only they were too consumed with their own romantic drama to listen? Now that you know the value of reflection and objectivity, you can be the ultimate listener.
If that’s not enough of a good deed, you could also help save your younger friends’ lives – seriously. As we’ve previously mentioned, today’s society is often obsessed with youth, which can make aging a terrifying prospect. These negative assumptions about aging can actually be fatal: U.S. research found that young and middle-aged adults who felt pessimistic about aging were twice as a likely as optimists to experience a heart attack or stroke within 30 years.
By befriending someone younger than you and showing how awesome life can still be, you’re not just destroying harmful, ageist stereotypes. You’re helping your friends live longer lives, too.
The truth is, friends make us happy. Studies have found that regular contact with 10 or more friends significantly increases happiness (and life length) while living less than one mile away from a happy friend increases your own joy by 25 percent. When surrounded by friends during a negative experience, people produced less of the stress hormone cortisol, and surveys even report that doubling your friend group produces the same positive effects on your well-being as a 50 percent raise at work.
All of this goes to say that friends make your life better – and younger friends offer no fewer of these positive benefits than older ones. Instead of age, Mark Vernon considers equality to be one of the most important qualities in a friendship, saying, “Friendship rests on the desire of the friends that things should go well for each.” Jon Nussbaum agrees, pointing out that friendships should include “close relationships without familial obligations” and the ability to “help you adapt to the challenges of life.”
If you restrict your friend group to people your own age, you could be missing out on some major soul sisters (or brothers from another mother) who could make your life even better.
READ MORE: 5 Benefits of Having Global Friendships
Because, the truth is, living longer probably isn’t worth it unless you’re enjoying life too. Luckily for us, we don’t need a fountain of youth to attain either goal. Instead, we just need to make some younger friends who will not only challenge and teach us in and out of the workplace, but also give us a peek into the future that we are helping to shape.
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