Alternative Therapies and Lifestyle

5 Ways Friends Make You Healthier and Happier

+ Rebecca

Did you know that yesterday was International Friendship Day?

It’s said the idea started with Hallmark in 1919, when they established “Friendship Day” as a day for people to celebrate their friendships by sending greeting cards. In 1958, the country of Paraguay proposed an International Friendship Day to celebrate friendships between people from all around the globe.

The United Nations picked up on that idea in 2011, and declared July 30 as International Friendship Day, in an effort to promote friendships between people, countries, governments, and cultures around the world.

Today, most countries celebrate Friendship Day on the first Sunday of August, which was yesterday, August 7th. In my post today, I’d like to remind readers to be grateful for your good friends.

I know my friends are very precious to me, as they’ve gotten me through some difficult times, and shared my joys and accomplishments as well. I don’t know where I’d be today if I hadn’t had their support and love along the way.

Recent studies have shown us that friends are not only nice to have, but that they’re actually critical to a long, healthy life.

1. Friends May Help You Live Longer

Doctors have long known how important it is for us to have good social connections, but it may be even more important than they thought.

A large review of 148 studies reported that people’s relationships, and their friendships in particular, were important to health and well being, so much so that they could affect lifespan.

People with stronger social relationships had a 50 percent increased likelihood for survival. Researchers explained that when we have good friends, they help us better deal with stress, which can have lasting beneficial effects on our health.

So spend time maintaining your good friendships. They could add years to your life!

2. Friends Promote Healthy Hearts

Isolation isn’t good for us. Way back in the 1970s studies showed that adults who had few social ties had almost double the risk of death over a period of about 10 years.

A more recent study found that good friendships and relationships help support a healthy heart. Research presented at a 2015 American Heart Association meeting showed that participants who encouraged and supported each other saw positive changes in their heart health.

Other studies have shown that having few or no close friends increased risk of having a first-time heart attack by 50 percent, whereas those who have few friends have a harder time recovering after experiencing a heart attack.

Keep eating well and exercising, but if you want to keep your ticker going strong, take a walk with your friend this afternoon.

3. Friends Keep Your Brain Sharp

People who have few friends or who feel lonely are more likely to suffer from dementia. Over the course of one study, lonely people were 1.64 times more likely to develop dementia than those who weren’t lonely.

Researchers aren’t sure yet why this might be. One theory is that friends stimulate us, through activities and conversation, and lack of mental stimulation can increase risk of brain stagnation. Another theory is that friends help us stay healthier and more active, in general, and overall health is linked with brain health.

Whatever the connection may be, friendship is important to your mental health, so if you find yourself feeling a little lonely, don’t be afraid to reach out.

4. Friends Reduce Your Risk of Depression

Speaking of mental health, how about an easy way to prevent depression?

Good friends can do that. According to a 2015 study of adolescents, people who had good friends who were mentally healthy (and not suffering from depression themselves) cut in half their risk of developing depression, and also doubled the likelihood that they would recover from depression over a 6-12 month period.

Of course, the important thing here is that the friends had “healthy moods” or were generally positive. So if you’re feeling down or low, call up that friend who is likely to lift you up, and you’ll probably feel better.

5. Friends Can Help You Lose Weight

Dieting and working out is just more fun with a friend.

Plus you’ll be more likely to stick with your efforts to shed a few pounds. In fact, studies have found that weight loss among friends can be contagious!

One study of over 550 overweight and obese adults found that those who participated in weight-loss programs where 2-7 people from the same social network participated together in weekly activity sessions with trained health educators lose more weight and trimmed their waists more than those who simply tried to lose weight on their own.

Another more recent study reported that having a friend or two working together greatly affected people’s weight loss goals for the better. One of the reasons may be that when we’re working toward a goal together, we feel accountable to our friends, and don’t want to let them down.

It’s just easier to put on those sneakers and get out for that walk when you have a friend going with you, right?

Have You Hugged Your Friend Today?

There are other benefits to having good friends. They help us stay healthier overall. People with good social connections are less likely to suffer from today’s main health problems, including high blood pressure and chronic inflammation. Positive friends can encourage us to live better and reach higher, and can help us cope with rejection and failure so that we’re more likely to get back up and try again.

Your friends are truly a huge influence in your life. Just be careful-research has also found that “negative” friends, or those who tend to ruminate about their troubles or engage in unhealthy behaviors, can bring us down, and make us more likely to suffer as well.

Surround yourself with positive, upbeat people who are going the way you want to go. If you haven’t found them yet, consider taking a class, signing up for a workshop, joining a club, or finding another way to meet new people. You’ll not only receive the benefits of good friendships, you’ll be able to give them to others, too, and sometimes that’s the best part.

Do your friends help you cope with life’s ups and downs?

SourcesJulianne Holt-Lunstad, et al., “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review,” PLoS Med., 2010; 7(7):e1000316, Beck, “Friendship, for a Healthy Heart,” The Atlantic, January 23, 2015, JP, et al., “Social integration prospectively predicts changes in heart rate and variability among individuals undergoing migration stress,” Ann Behav Med., April 2015; 49(2):230-8,“How Friendship Can Improve Heart Health,” WTVY News, November 10, 2015, Castillo, “Heart Attack Survivors Who Have No Friends are Worse Off; the Health Benefits of Social Support,” MedicalDaily, September 30, 2014, Woolston, “Health Benefits of Friendship,” Consumer HealthDay, January 20, 2016,           Karen Rowan, “Loneliness Linked with Dementia Risk,” LiveScience, December 11, 2012, Hill, et al., “Spreading of healthy mood in adolescent social networks,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B, August 19, 2015; 282(1813): DOI: 10.1098/4spb.2015.1180,“It’s Easier to Lose Weight with Family and Friends, Study Finds,” CardioSmart, November 25, 2013,

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