How Friendship Makes You Healthier

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  • Making time for your friends gets harder as you age. However, studies are increasingly showing that your friendships can provide you a host of health-improving benefits—and not just emotional ones. People who maintain meaningful relationships throughout their lives tend to be happier, live longer, and experience fewer health problems. In fact, research reveals your social connections might influence your health just as much as sleep, diet, and even whether or not you smoke. Whether it’s over the phone or in person, scheduling regular quality time with your friends can positively impact the following five areas of your health.

  • 1
    Stress
    Comforting a friend

    When it comes to stressful situations, you’re more likely to respond calmly if you lean on your friends. One study showed that people who discussed a nerve-racking event with a friend beforehand responded more steadily when the event arrived. As you lean on loved ones, you release oxytocin, the hormone associated with love, which leaves you feeling a sense of calm. A lack of friends may cause you to feel more tense, since feeling lonely increases your body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol. A friendly phone call or coffee date could reduce your overall stress and be a truly positive step for your social well-being.

  • 2
    Cardiovascular Health
    Group of Women Eating Out

    Your heart benefits from maintaining friendships, too. One study followed women with suspected coronary artery disease. Women with a strong support system were not only more likely to live through the next two years, but they were also less likely to develop hypertension, diabetes, or an unhealthy amount of abdominal fat. People who feel socially isolated, on the other hand, seem to have a higher risk of cardiovascular problems. One large-scale study found that people with the fewest social contacts had a 50% greater risk of dying from heart disease. This makes friends a medication-free way to keep your heart strong and healthy.

  • 3
    Longevity
    Senior couple

    Maintaining friendships is linked to living longer. Researchers examined hundreds of thousands of people and found those lacking strong relationships had a greater risk of dying early. The study revealed having even one close friend could provide life-extending benefits of up to 10 years. Also, your odds of recovering from a major health event, like a heart attack, increase when you have strong social ties. Whether it’s a regular email with a cross-country pal, or a daily chat with a neighbor, these seemingly small interactions can help add years to your life.

  • 4
    Brain Function
    Senior man doing crossword puzzle

    As you age, your risk of cognitive decline goes up, whether it’s increased forgetfulness or more serious cognitive conditions, like dementia. The good news is your friendships may help you stay mentally sharp. Multiple studies show older people who stay in touch with a variety of friends and family have a lower risk of dementia. Researchers believe the juggling of multiple relationships helps keep your brain strong. They also find that adults who are socially integrated into their communities—for example, through contact with friends and neighbors—experience less memory loss than their more isolated peers.

  • 5
    Happiness
    group of women lifting small weights

    Having friends is part of your social health. Friendships make you more likely to feel satisfied with life and can bring you many health benefits. Positive peer pressure may encourage you to take up happiness-inducing habits, like regular exercise and getting out of the house to socialize. Having a social circle also increases your sense of belonging and purpose as you and your friends rely on one another for big and small things. So pick up takeout for a friend after a hard day, or offer to help out when they’re overwhelmed—you’ll be doing a good thing for both of you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 7

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