Friends With (Health) Benefits: Life is Better With Them

The Beatles’ iconic lyrics, “I get by with a little help from my friends,” rings true for most. Research shows friends play a greater role in life than helping one get by, as they boost one’s overall health and immunity. Romantic relationships have a similar effect.
It’s well known that happily married people are healthier than single people. One is much more likely to work out if her spouse does. In fact, married people are more successful in changing bad habits and improving health patterns – whether it’s smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, poor diet or alcohol.

Friends reduce stress, depression risk

A good support network significantly eases stress levels and keeps depression at bay. Seeing friends can cut seniors’ risk of depression in half. A 2011 study published in the journal Developmental Psychology found that when children have a good friend during a stressful event, their stress levels are lower. That friend could be a parent, sister, teacher or a friend who is supportive. In fact, male and female friendships all help relieve stress in bad situations.

Friendships lead to longer lives

A study in the Journal of Circulation found that women who engaged in frequent social interactions with a wide range of friends exhibited lower blood pressure. They’re also less likely to die from heart disease compared to less social people.

A good social network helps heart attack victims recover faster and even protects against dementia. A 2008 Kaiser Permanente study found that women who maintained more friendships over a 4-year period were 26 percent less likely to develop dementia.

In fact, those who belong to good social network are more apt to live longer – at least eight years longer or more, according to researchers at Brigham Young University. Friends influence health habits, setting a good example that leads to smoking cessation, healthier eating patterns, regular exercise routines and weight loss.

Have trouble making friends?

For those who are shy and have difficulty making a connection, here are a few tips:

  • Attend cooking classes, poetry readings, concerts and other events that sound interesting.
  • Make the effort to talk with one person at these events. If one shares something in common with another, the conversation develops more easily.
  • Suggest coffee or lunch to stay in touch.
  • Don’t be too aggressive with text, email or other messages. People are busy, so don’t risk discouraging them from making contact.

Every small effort toward connecting with a potential friend is worth it. Even if they don’t want to be friends, that’s fine. They may simply be too busy. Practice taking it in stride and moving on to the next person at another event. This practice will eventually lead to a connection with the right person. Just have a little faith.