The Beatles once sang “I get by with a little help from my friends” but studies have shown that friends do much more than help us get by. Friendship plays a big role in our overall health and wellbeing. Friends can help you celebrate the good times and provide support during the bad times.
Friends prevent loneliness and also give you a chance to offer much needed companionship as well. It may not be surprising that friends are good for our mental health, and research has shown that people with a good support network are at a significantly lower risk of depression. But the health benefits of friendships reach much further, as do the negative effects of a lack of companionship.
Friends help us reduce stress
Stress can cause all kinds of physical problems and if you surround yourself with the wrong kind of people, they can add to it. The effects of stress over time can harm your body and increase your risk of everything from depression and heart disease to obesity and diabetes. Your body will deal with life’s ups and down better with friends to support you and give you an emotional lift when you need it.
Stress is a well known contributor to heart disease and can encourage inflammation in the arteries. This link between social ties and inflammation seems to be especially marked in older people.
Friends help us develop healthy habits
If you’re not currently someone who takes much exercise or eats healthily, your friends can influence you to make positive health changes in your life. Join a walking group or find out what classes your local sports centre provides for your age group. We often think of friends as a group to have fun with but this can also mean improving your world in more ways than one.
Friendship can help improve your heart health
Good friendships seem to be especially helpful for the heart. A Swedish study of more than 13,600 men and women conducted over 3 years found that having few or no close friends increased the risk of having a first time heart attack by about 50%. Another study of 500 women found that the ones with close support networks had lower rates of high blood pressure and diabetes and were less likely to have excessive abdominal fat.
Friendship could lower your dementia risk
As we get older, brain performance typically slows down. For some people this decline in cognitive function is more severe, resulting in Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Some studies suggest that good social networks could help stave off the illness. A 2008 study from Kaiser Permanente in California found that women who maintained more friendships over a 4 year period reduced their risk of dementia by 26%. Those who saw friends and family daily halved their dementia risk.
Friends help us with early detection of illnesses
Friends can encourage you to get treatment faster during early signs of illness. They can persuade you that symptoms such as fatigue, unexpected weight loss, pain or discomfort, warrant a check up. Friends can sometimes point out something which the person has not even noticed and encourage them to seek treatment. This applies to physical ailments such as growths or moles and emotional issues.
Good and bad friendships
Unfortunately though, not all types of friendship are good for your health. A study in 2008 published in Hormones and Behavior in the US found that friends who talked excessively about their problems actually increased each other’s stress levels. And while friendships generally help encourage us to make healthy lifestyle choices, some can have the opposite effect. A famous study that followed over 12,000 people for 32 years found that a person’s risk of becoming overweight increased 57% if a close friend became overweight.
Likewise, happiness and unhappiness spreads from one friend to another. A study found that having a happy friend who lived less than a mile away increased the chances of finding personal happiness by 25%. On the other hand, being surrounded by unhappy friends can drag you down. In short, the most helpful friends are happy, encouraging and supportive and by giving them support, you may be helping your own health as much as by receiving their friendship.
Finally, friends don’t just want us to be healthy, the want us to be around for a long time. Developing and maintaining good friendships takes effort. The enjoyment and comfort friendship can bring, however, makes the effort worthwhile.
If you are currently lacking friends in your life, make a point to get involved in some new activities which will bring you into contact with like minded people. Before long you’ll not only feel emotionally better but your health may improve as well.
Further reading on this subject can be found on WebMD by following the link below:
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