You know that close friendships feel good. But did you know just how much of a health boost they can be?

According to a 10-year study of older people in Adelaide, satisfying friendships predict longevity better than even close family ties, and they can protect against obesity, depression and heart disease, among other health problems. Here's how to cherish these friendships and make sure you stay close for the long haul.

A childhood friend
Longtime intimates are special for many reasons. They knew you and your family while you were growing up and likely have many memories and stories of you that no one else does. "These friends remind you that you are still the person you've always been," says Rebecca Adams, a leading friendship researcher. Nurture these ties by starting a members-only group on Whats App, Google or Facebook and make it easy to share photos and stories. Or, stay in touch with regular phones calls - research from the University of Notre Dame shows people who chat at least every 15 days have the best chance of staying close over time.

A new friend
"As we get older, we can fall into ruts," says psychologist Pamela McLean. "New friends ignite different kinds of thinking and fresh ways of being." What's more, they'll connect you to another network of people, says Rosemary Blieszner, who has researched friendships among older women. 

That network can be helpful if you're looking to make a career change or find a new pool of potential dates. Find new friends at the office, befriend your kids' friends' parents, or try new activities, like that Zumba class at the gym.

A spiritual friend
A study from Duke University Medical Center found that people who regularly attended religious services or engaged in activities such as prayer, meditation, or Bible study had a 50 percent lower risk of dying over a six-year period than others of the same age and health status. That's not to say it's easy to forge a connection in a room of 300 worshippers or while meditating on your own. Seek more intimate opportunities at a local yoga studio or community centre; they often offer spiritually meaningful courses.

A workout friend
Experts agree that exercising - whether walking, golfing or salsa dancing - is one of the most important things you can do for your health and longevity. And a good friend may be the glue that makes this healthy habit stick. A University of Connecticut study of 189 women ages 59 to 78 found that strong social support was key to maintaining a new exercise regimen for one year. For best results, set a joint exercise goal together - whether it's going for a neighbourhood walk four days a week or running a 5K.

Your mum
Despite the inevitable conflicts between grown mums and daughters, the relationships are generally strong, supportive and close. "There is great value in this bond because mothers and daughters care so much for one another," says study author Karen Fingerman. Women who had the strongest relationships with their mothers didn’t take conflicts personally, but tended to see criticism as a reflection of their mother's habits or traits. Something to keep in mind if you’d like to be closer, but keep running into the same old hurdles.

So, how does one befriend herself, exactly? It starts with self-knowledge, says preventative medicine expert Dr Pamela Peeke. "Getting to know yourself is an amazing adventure," she says. "Think of what makes you fall in love with someone: how genuine, sincere, and caring they can be; the unconditional love they offer, no matter what. Doesn't that describe how you should feel about yourself?" Peeke recommends you repeat the following mantra as a reminder: "I love and honour myself as I do the other important people in my life.”

© Prevention Australia