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March 10, 2023

The importance of strong friendships only grows as men age

A meet-up between old college buddies at the Super Bowl highlights the value of maintaining existing bonds – and seeking new ones

Men's Health Relationships
Marc Kelman Wyck Furcron Courtesy/Louis Bezich

It's healthy for men to maintain strong friendships as they age. Author Louis Bezich reconnected with his college friends, Marc Kelman, left, and Wyck Furcron, right, in Arizona prior to the Super Bowl.

I went to that big game a few weeks ago. You know, the one in Phoenix. That thing they call the Super Bowl. My wife Maria, my son Anthony and daughter-in-law Colleen headed west for the event of a lifetime. Something we would remember for the rest of our lives. A true milestone moment.

Like all Eagles fans, we left Philadelphia will all the optimism in the world. Why not? We were favored and we all knew in our heart of hearts, discounting all hometown sentiment, that objectively we had the better team. Well, we all know how that turned out, and despite a gut-wrenching second half and having to endure the constant chant of the tomahawk chop – which really got on our nerves toward the end, it was indeed a weekend that we will remember for a lifetime.

There is nothing like the experience of traveling with other Eagles fans, complete strangers with whom you immediately bond when observing their team attire and exchanging a "Go Birds" as you pass. From Philly to Chicago to Phoenix, whether on the plane or in the airports, the trip took on a mystical feeling. Once we touched down, the experience just kept building as we settled in, enjoyed some great dinners, and joined more Philly fans at the pre-game parties on game day. But with all that in play, one of the most memorable moments for me was catching up with two fraternity brothers who live in Phoenix. It was only a couple of hours over lunch, but the chance to connect felt really good.

Marc and Wyck were one and two years ahead of me, respectfully, and roommates in my junior and sophomore years. Both have beautiful families and enjoyed successful careers. Today, I would classify them as well entrenched in encore careers in which they balance their time between business, family and fun. Marc is very much engaged in managing a commercial real estate portfolio, while Wych, a retired attorney, has his own business pursuits. Their sustaining interests in business and their overall levels of activity serve them well. They are case studies in the value of staying active in mind and body.

I have seen Wyck on and off over the years because he has roots in Central Jersey. Marc's family moved to Phoenix when he was young, so he has been Arizona-based throughout his adult life and out of reach. That has not stopped us from staying in touch over the years, whether via email or through another fraternity brother from Haddonfield, but I had not seen him since college. Both Marc and Wyck have served as a beacon of brotherhood, and a source of resiliency for me through the difficulties that life has brought since our college days. And while it has been enjoyable to watch our lives unfold, the science suggests that our friendship has additional benefits.

A positive impact on physical and mental health

Just about a year ago, I wrote about the physical and mental health benefits of friendships. Though my focus was on the challenges of making friends after 40, I found numerous expert studies that documented the positive impacts of doing so, including those from Harvard University, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and the Cleveland Clinic. 

A year later, there remains ample evidence that friendships grow in importance as we age, by helping improve your cardiovascular function, ability to get a good night's sleep and the performance of your immune system. The Mayo Clinic tells us that adults can reduce their risk of health problems like depression, high blood pressure and an unsafe body mass index by establishing strong social connections. Older adults with meaningful relationships are more likely to extend their lives than those without these relationships.

The National Council For Mental Wellbeing notes that regardless of your age, friendships can have positive benefits for your mental health and well-being, and a socially active lifestyle is associated with higher late-life satisfaction.

William Chopik, a psychology professor at Michigan State University, has concluded from his research that the impact of friendship increases with age and may even exceed the importance of family relationships. According to Chopik, relationships are a strong predictor of health and happiness in older adults and "can make a world of difference for our health and well-being."

Making new friends

Viktor Sander, a counselor who specializes in interpersonal communication and relationships, says that as men age, they may believe that they have few opportunities and limited time to make friends. They may not be prepared to consciously engage in the pursuit of friends after relying on traditional social connectors, like work or a spouse, to prompt new relationships. Divorce and family obligations can contribute to a crowded life that leaves little time for friend making.

Among the many strategies offered by Sander are those that emerge by opening your mind to new perspectives on manliness – being more open with people so that you can develop a close connection, seeking multi-generational friendships, and joining or starting a men's support group. Others are more focused on life management, like scheduling your attendance at events that offer the potential to meet new people or making a point to reach out to old friends. Most experts agree that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to friends and acknowledging some level of vulnerability is more than OK.

Connecting with Marc and Wyck was great, and it certainly took the sting out of the loss to Andy Reid and the Chiefs. Knowing that there are health benefits that flow from our friendships is like icing on the cake. Next time you have an opportunity to make a friend, keep these added benefits in mind. It's another example that a healthy lifestyle is much more that diet and exercise. Friendships are a great compliment.

Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website.

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