The Science of Love (1 of 3): The Love in Friendship


I’ll be honest. I love French fries, especially when they’re done just right. I also love my mom; in fact, I relate fully to Abraham Lincoln’s words, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

 So although I “love” French fries, that love comes nowhere near my love for my mom. And yet how can I use the same word “love” for both?

In our culture, we use “love” in so many ways and to varying extremes, to the point that it can lose its true meaning. In the next 3 articles, we will be exploring what “love” really is and how it can help us maintain our health.

The love in friendship

Liz was only 40 years old. A single mother, she had four young daughters, the youngest one 5 years old and the oldest one 12. As she lay there on the hospital bed, the most fragile she had ever been, glimpses of her daughters’ tear-stained faces catch her weakened attention. She wonders what would happen to her girls after this was all over. Where would they go? What kind of people would they grow up to be? And would they forget her after the brain cancer had finally won? And, with nothing more than a final breath to breathe, she finds her solace in a promise, a promise made to her by her best friend.

It was April of 2015 that Elizabeth Diamond, former life coach and cancer patient with more than a dozen brain tumors, died and left four daughters motherless. That same month however, Laura Ruffino, her best friend since 5th grade, adopted all four of her daughters. This is friendship.

“Good friends are like stars, you don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.
– Anonymous

The Okinawans and longevity

Did you know that the relationships we form around us, including the friendships we make, can contribute to our longevity? Okinawa, Japan has one of the highest densities of supercentenarians (110+ years old) in the world. Various aspects of the Okinawan lifestyle have been analyzed, their diets have been shown to be of superb quality, and even their daily exercises give good reason for their health.

It’s interesting to note that the areas around Okinawa, such as the Amami and Yaeyama islands, don’t tend to live as long as those in Okinawa, despite similar diets and lifestyles. In fact there’s one often-forgotten component as to why the Okinawans lie as long as they do.

What’s the difference between Okinawa and the surrounding islands? Well, activities are organized on the streets daily so that all members of the community can participate. The elders are highly respected, to the point that their wisdom is often sought after on important community issues. Elders are highly involved with the care and education of the young, even well into old age.

All of this reinforces the relationships between the old and the young. It also goes to deeply signify that, as Okinawans age, they become more valuable to the community. This instills a sense of purpose in the entire community, which only gets stronger with age.

Purpose is what gives us reason to get up in the morning; it’s what keeps us going when we want to give up. When one’s purpose strengthens as we age, it gives us a stronger reason to keep going.

Studies show that friendships can contribute to longevity.

Consider a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, in which about 1,500 people over the age of 70 were followed over the course of 10 years. General health, demographics and lifestyle were all taken into consideration and what they found was that those that had greater networks of friendship tended to live longer by 20%. The studies suggest that merely having friends at an old age can extend your life by at least 2 years for every 10 years after the age of 70.

If we consider the possibility of living to the age of supercentenearians, then that would mean living another 8 years simply because of friendship! This of course does not account for having lifelong friendships since childhood.

If such statistics hold (and of course, we’re moving into speculation here), that would mean if one were to live a supercentenarian life, then 22 years of those 110+ years would be attributed to friendship. This 22-year mark is interesting if you consider that the life expectancy for most countries, especially in the United States of America, lies around the mid-80s. So then, if these statistics apply, mid-80s is around the age a supercentenarian (110) would possibly live if he or she didn’t have friends (110 – 22 = 88).

I’ll leave you with another quote to sum it all up.

“When ‘I’ is replaced with ‘we’, even ‘illness’ becomes ‘wellness’.” – Anonymous

All of this is to offer the following health challenge: Take care of your friendships; your life will thank you for it.

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Rolando Fulgencio, ND

Dr. Rolando Fulgencio is a Naturopathic Physican in the Seattle area. Founder of Fulgencio Natural Health Center, he did his undergrad in Walla Walla University and received his medical degree from Bastyr University. He's also the media director and program director for F5 Challenge, a ministry that promotes fitness, health, and fellowship through outdoor activities.

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