We all need somebody to lean on, as the song goes, turns out to be very true. Science is discovering that friendship is a great for your health!
According to a recent Harvard publication, friendships affect health “in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking. Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.” Read more to learn about the health benefits of friends.
Good friends do all the following:
- Help You Live longer
- Keep your heart healthy (lower risk of heart attack)
- Keep your brain sharper (lowers risk of dementia)
- Less Likely to catch a cold
- Helps fight depression
- Get Better Sleep
- Increased productivity
- Peer pressure: the good kind
If you’re looking to live a long and healthy life, start surrounding yourself with good friends. A study from Bringham Young University found that people with social relationships live 50 percent longer than people who are more socially isolated.
And if you get sick, getting by with a little help from a friend is better. A 1989 study in the Lancet found that women with breast cancer reported better quality of life and lived longer if they were enrolled in a support group.
Friends are Heart Healthy
Good friendships seem to be especially helpful for the heart. A three-year Swedish study of more than 13,600 men and women found that having few or no close friends increased the risk of having a first-time heart attack by about 50 percent
In a different study of more than 500 women, the women who reported little social support were twice as likely to die. And women who enjoyed close support were not only more likely to be alive after two years, they also had lower rates of high blood pressure and diabetes and had less abdominal fat.
Brain Stays Sharper
Active socializing delays memory loss as we age. A 2012 study found that older people’s dementia risk increased with their feelings of loneliness. In that study, people over 65 who said they felt lonely developed dementia 13.4% of the time whereas people who were not lonely only developed dementia 5.7% of the time.
Lower Risk of Catching a Cold
Highly social people are less likely to catch a cold, according to a study from the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. Their research found that extroverts have the highest level of immune-system functioning.
Fight Off Depression
A 2011 study on fourth-graders found that having friends helped kids cope with the stress of being picked on or rejected by other classmates. The researchers measured cortisol, a stress hormone, in their study participants’ saliva and found that being excluded by their peers raised the kids’ cortisol levels, probably indicating chronic stress.
When stress does appear, friends can encourage healthy reactions. People who lack strong social support tend to have dramatic and potentially dangerous reactions to scary or worrisome situations. Their hearts pound and their blood pressure soars. But friends can help keep the heart on a more even keel. A 2007 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that young men and women discussing rough patches in their lives had a lower pulse and blood pressure when they had a supportive friend at their side.
Get Better Sleep
Having trouble sleeping at night? Your loneliness may be to blame. Research from the University of Chicago found that people who are more socially isolated experience more nighttime restlessness and disruptions, even if they aren’t aware of their feelings of loneliness. The more fulfilling connections people had with others, the better they slept.
Here’s a reason to go to lunch with your coworkers or to meet a friend for coffee during your break: A study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that workers were more happy and productive when they went on breaks at the same time
Peer Pressure (for better or worse)
A New England Journal study reporting on data from the Framingham study showed that if one person became obese over the course of the study, the friends of that person were 57 % more likely to become obese, too.
But the converse was also true, study researcher James Fowler, a professor of global public health at the University of California, San Diego, noted in a statement. People also take cues from their friends who exercise or eat well to lose weight, as a separate 2011 study confirmed.
“When we help one person lose weight, we’re not just helping one person, we’re helping many,” Fowler said. “And that needs to be taken into account by policy analysts and also by politicians who are trying to decide what the best measures are for making society healthier.”
Friends can not only help you deal with stress and act as a buffer to its effects, but they can also encourage you to take better care of yourself.