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ReConnect Africa is a unique website and online magazine for the African professional in the Diaspora. Packed with essential information about careers, business and jobs, ReConnect Africa keeps you connected to the best of Africa.

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Image That's What Friends are For

Before you delete yet another e-mail reminding you of National Friendship Week (which, judging from my inbox, must take place at least twice a month), bear in mind that your friends may hold the key to how long you live.

A recent study found that many people overlook a powerful weapon in the quest for better health: their friends. A 10-year Australian study has shown that friends can help us fight depression, speed up our recovery times from illness, slow down our aging and prolong our life.

Already starting to think differently about those e-mails?

The study, conducted by Flinders University, set out to examine if social networks with children, relatives, friends and confidants predict survival in older Australians, taking account of a range of demographic, health, and lifestyle variables.

Impact of Friendship

While most people appreciate their circle of friends, the importance of these relationships takes on a whole new meaning as a result of this study. Some of the key findings from the research showed that older people with a large circle of friends were 22% less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends.

Adding more e-mail addresses to your contacts list yet?

Well, before you do, consider your body size and that of your friends. Another study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, examined the factors that cause a spread in obesity and concluded that a person's chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval.

Our friends sustain us, inspire us, encourage us and, yes, send us e-mails that we can often do without. But, they also help us heal.

While you pause to consider your options of either a longer life or obesity, you may be swayed by a third study by Harvard researchers that found evidence that social integration (read friendship) delays memory loss among elderly Americans and promotes brain health.

Healthy Friendships

We can, and do, take our friends for granted as we get caught up with heavy workloads and hectic lives, and the lesson from some of these remarkable studies is that our friends are a resource we should nurture and hold onto, no matter what.

According to Rebecca Adams, a professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina, friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships. In some cases, really good friends become our family, even though no blood ties may exist.

Our friends sustain us, inspire us, encourage us and, yes, send us e-mails that we can often do without. But, they also help us heal. A 2006 study of around 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends. Remarkably, it didn't appear to matter how much contact a nurse had with her friends – just the fact of having those friends was protective.

Friendship works for men too, as a study of 736 middle-aged Swedish men revealed. The findings from this research showed that, rather than their relationship status, it was their friendships that affected their risk of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease. Only smoking was shown to be as significant a risk factor as a lack of social support.

Lightening the Burdens

Despite all the evidence, it still isn't entirely clear why friendship has such a big effect on our lives and well-being. But the facts certainly show that friendship has a deep and powerful psychological effect on our health and our confidence, reduces our stress, and offers us people that we can turn to for both practical help and emotional support.

In 2008, researchers studied 34 students at the University of Virginia, taking them to the base of a steep hill and fitting them with a weighted backpack. The students were asked to estimate the steepness of the hill. During the exercise, some of the participants stood next to friends, while others stood alone.

The students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the steepness of the hill. And the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared.

"Friendship is an undervalued resource," says Karen A. Roberto, Director of the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech., "and the consistent message of these studies is that friends make your life better."

One of my favourite quotes is "best friends are the siblings God forgot to give us". So make every week National Friendship Week, and keep circulating those e-mails – it's for your own good!

In This Issue

As the world continues to struggle with the economic downturn, we publish the comments made by South African ANC Treasurer-General Mathews Phosa on Africa's economic prospects. In An African Response to the Global Economic Crisis Dr. Phosa explains why he thinks this is a period that can fundamentally redefine Africa's position in the global economy.

They may have to implement redundancies, but Human Resources personnel are not exempt from the economic downturn and, arguably, the toughest job market for two decades. In How to Find a Job in a Downturn Owen Morgan offers advice for HR professionals searching for their next job.

Also in this month's Careers section, our Careers Coach offers some tips on working in consultancy.

We speak to Susan Adwoa Mensah in The Art of Justice about how she is using her remarkable artistic talent and forthcoming exhibition to shine a spotlight on the plight of women and children caught up in war and violence.

The National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) is building a new online social action community to generate ideas, suggestions and data that will be used to inform development for the poorest populations in Africa – and they need the help of the African Diaspora. Go to Africa Rural Connect to learn more about a new project that aims to support connections among Africa's Diaspora to improve agriculture in Africa.

Employment Lawyer, Landé Belo is our guest interviewee in this month's '5 Minute Interview' and shares some of the sources of her inspiration and success.

On 18 July, the legend that is Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela celebrates his 91st birthday. To celebrate the life of this inspirational leader, we go back into the ReConnect Africa Archives and bring you another chance to read the remarkable interview by John Battersby in Mandela.

July sees a wide range of exciting events taking place in the UK and overseas and our Events listing gives you details of what's on this month.

As ever, we report on news from the UK and around the world and bring you an overview of news from across the African continent.

Share your comments about our articles or write into our Letters page – where you can read the thought-provoking response by Dr. Sharon Minor to my previous Editorial – and let us know what you think about ReConnect Africa.

ReConnect Africa Members' Forum

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Enjoy this issue - and write in and share your comments!


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