Did you know – One of the best-kept secrets to good health and a long life is having a robust social network of strong friendships? Yes, it’s true. Good friends are good for your health. They can help you celebrate good times and provide support during bad times, prevent loneliness and give you a chance to offer needed companionship, too.
Here are ten reasons friendships boost health and wellness:
1. Friendships increase longevity
Positive friendships are associated with longevity. Research shows that people with solid groups of friends were 22% more likely to live longer than individuals with fewer friends. Surprisingly, the researchers also found family and children to have no influence on longevity.
2. Friends help keep a sharp brain
Friends can help keep our brains active by intellectually stimulating mental engagement and quick thinking which enhances cognitive function.
3. Close friends care about you
When we’re sick – friends are especially important. In a study of nearly 3,000 nurses with breast cancer, those with close friends were nearly 4 times less likely to die from their illness, than those without close friends. The proximity and amount of contact the participants had with their friends was not associated with survival – it was just important to know that they were there.
4. Friendships give a sense of belonging
Friends can increase your sense of belonging and purpose by supporting who you are without judgment and including you in their lives as well as perhaps the lives of their families and other friends.
5. Good friendships increase happiness
Friends boost your happiness. Negative emotions like anger, envy and despair influence the entire immune system. Nothing like calling on a friend when you feel down and getting out to enjoy some time together for a walk-in nature, a movie or dinner, or buddy-up on other activities or hobbies you enjoy.
6. Friends offer stress support
Friends can literally reduce your body’s stress response. Researchers have found that going through negative times with a good friend by your side can literally lower cortisol, the stress hormone.
7. Friends provide social support
Friends improve your self-worth by simply offering compliments and praise for our achievements, including you in their plans and accepting your feelings. Your friends often point out positive sides of you that you may not be seeing in yourself which is important to acknowledge.
8. Friends chime in
Friends can help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one. Their support and ability to talk through the difficult issues can help to minimize your anxiety and a poor state of mind such as depression.
9. Friends can endorse a healthy lifestyle
Friends can encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise. Been wanting to drop a few pounds, cross “run a marathon” off your bucket list, or take up spinning? By partnering up with a friend to hit the gym you are more likely to follow through with a consistent workout routine.
10. Friendships promote better sleep
Friends can help you sleep better. Research shows that feeling lonely is likely to disrupt sleep patterns. Also noted is how much time we spend interacting with friends may determine how long it takes to fall asleep and stay asleep nightly.
As we get older it is often hard to develop new friendships or keep up existing friendships. Friendships may take a back seat to other priorities, such as work or caring for children or aging parents. You and your friends may have grown apart due to changes in your lives or interests. Or maybe you’ve moved to a new community and haven’t yet found a way to meet people. Developing and maintaining good friendships takes effort and commitment.
Another important aspect of friendships is – are your friends HEALTHY? If you want to be healthy, you need to consider the physical, emotional and mental health of who you choose to hang out with. If your friends don’t resonate with positive feelings and healthy eating habits, for example, it may be time to look for and cultivate friendships in healthier environments.
There’s no need to aim for a specific number of friends. Everyone is different when it comes to having a specific number of friends. Some of us benefit from a large and diverse network of friends, while others prefer a smaller circle of friends and acquaintances. There are also different types of friendship. You may have a few close friends you turn to for deeply personal conversations, and more casual friends with whom you see movies, play basketball or share backyard cookouts. Consider what works for you. Overall, the quality of your relationships is more important than the specific number of friends you have.
How to Make New Friends
- Take your child — or pet — for a walk. Chat with neighbors who are also out and about or head to a popular park and strike up conversations there.
- Take a class at a local gym, senior center or community fitness facility. Start a lunchtime walking group at work.
- Accept invites. When you’re invited to a social gathering, say yes. Also, consider contacting someone who recently invited you to an activity and returns the favor. Recently a former high school friend (called Zena) called me out of the blue and invited me to have some tea and chat. After hours of reminiscing and catching up, we both decided to take advantage of the BFF time again soon.
- Volunteer. Offer your time or talents at a hospital, place of worship, museum, community center, charitable group or other organization. You can form strong connections when you work with people who have mutual interests.
- Attend community events. Get together with a group of people working toward a goal you believe in, such as an election or the cleanup of a natural area. Find a group with similar interests in an activity, such as auto racing, gardening, reading or making crafts.
- Go to school. Take a college or community education course to meet people who have similar interests.
- Share your gratitude. Let your friends know how important their friendship means to you. Don’t know how to express it? There are many inspiring friendship quotes available online to give you ideas for the perfect message. Express your positive vibes with your friends verbally, in a card, text message, on social media or by email. They will appreciate the kind gesture. Sharing thoughts that are inspiring and motivational is one of my favorite sentiments to expressing my myself. It compels me to create inspiring quotes which I post on my website called Angela’s Insights and on my Instagram page.
- Above all, stay positive. You may not become friends with everyone you meet, but maintaining a friendly attitude and demeanor can help you improve the relationships in your life and sow the seeds of friendship with new acquaintances.
Nurturing Healthy Friendships
Developing and maintaining healthy friendships involves give-and-take. Sometimes you’re the one giving support, and other times you’re on the receiving end. Letting friends know you care about them and appreciate them can help strengthen your bond. It’s as important for you to be a good friend as it is to surround yourself with good friends.
Keeping lifelong friends…
- Go Easy. Don’t overwhelm friends with phone calls, texts, instant messages or emails. Respect boundaries.
- Don’t Compete. Don’t let friendships turn into a battle over who makes the most money or who has the nicest home.
- Have a Healthy, Realistic Self-image. Work on building your self-esteem by taking care of yourself — eat a healthy diet and include physical activity in your daily routine. Vanity and constant self-criticism can be turnoffs to potential friends.
- Avoid Constant Complaining. This one thing can definitely put a strain on your friendships. Talk to your friends about how you can change the parts of your life that make you unhappy and engage them in helping you and offer them the same in return.
- Have a Positive Outlook. Try to find the humor in things. Laughter is infectious and appealing, and your friends will appreciate it and even learn to do the same from you.
- Listen. Ask what’s going on in your friends’ lives. Avoid talking about your own problems all the time. Do your best to give advice when your friends ask for it but otherwise be a good listener.
- Don’t Judge. Give your friends space to change, grow and make mistakes. Encourage your friends to freely express their emotions.
- Respect Privacy. Keep any personal information that your friends share with you just between you and them. Don’t go posting their photos or about them on social media without asking first. Also, try not to ask questions that make your friends uncomfortable.
Fortunately, it’s never too late to build new friendships or reconnect with old friends. Investing time in making friends and strengthening your friendships can pay off in better health and a brighter outlook for years to come. That special friend may be looking for someone just like you!