How Friendships Improve Health
In numerous studies, researchers are finding that people who have strong friendships age better, recover from illness quicker, have stronger immunity, and live longer.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the benefits of friendship include stress reduction, improving your self-image, decreasing your risk of serious mental illness, and the presence of a support system during life’s joys and difficult transitions.
A 2008 Harvard Study concluded that having a robust social life delays memory loss among elderly Americans. A 10-year Australian study found that older adults who had strong social networks lived longer than those who did not have them.
A team of Brigham Young University researchers announced in 2010 their conclusions after reviewing 148 studies examining the effects of social relationships on health. Over 308,000 people were represented in these studies. Their bottom line: it is more harmful to have low levels of social interaction than it is not to exercise, and it is twice as harmful as obesity.
The power seems to lie in friendships, moreso than in having a spouse or family. According to Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, “Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.”
Next: 5 ways to build friendships
With innumerable television channels, on-demand programming, and websites willing and available to consume our days, it’s easy to have a life characterized by far more screen-time than face time with friends. While some of us are fortunate to have quality friendships extending back to early childhood or our college days, it’s never too late to begin building your friendship circle. With a clear intention to have and become a good friend, you can improve this area of your life, enhancing the joy, fun and overall health in your life. Some suggestions:
- Make time for coffee or a walk with the friends you already have.
- Remember everyone doesn’t have to become your best friend. Some folks might be good work-out partners or pet-walking buddies. What matters most is to connect authentically on some basis.
- Pick up the phone: There’s nothing like connecting in real time, even if it’s not face-to-face. In the above-mentioned research, not all of the friendships were local. But they were genuine and the friends stayed connected.
- Get out of the house: Whether you decide to volunteer, join a bowling league, or just have coffee each morning in a favorite café, engage in some activity that will break your isolation.
- Sow plentifully: Not all of your invitations to friendship will be received the way you’d like. Sometimes other people are busy, have hectic lives or problems you don’t know about, or they’re just not in a space of friendship building. Don’t waste time taking it personally. Keep planting seeds of friendship with a variety of people. You never really know who will prove, over time, to be your truest mates.