Friends are much more than good company – They are also great for your health! Having friends can have a number of surprising health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, boosting willpower and perhaps even preventing cancers.
Let’s look at these amazing benefits a little closer.
Friends can help you live longer
Friends could lengthen your life!
People with strong social relationships are far less likely to die prematurely than people who don’t. According to research, the effect of friendship on life span is much more pertinent than exercising – and equivalent to quitting smoking.
The impact of friendships on health is through the body’s processing of stress. Stress is an evolutionary defence mechanism that is good for us in the short term, but the chronic stress that can come from isolation causes quite severe health issues. Older people with better social ties had a better episodic memory and less neurological damage from the stresses of isolation.
This stress can encourage the inflammation of arteries and can be a precursor to atherosclerosis or clogged arteries. Having friends and strong social support relieves these stresses, with people who discuss difficult times in their lives have lower pulse and blood pressure when they had close friends by their sides.
People have to talk and this is particularly pertinent when they are going through difficult times – people effectively use their families and friends as stress buffers, sharing their problems and not seeking out negative coping mechanisms such as drugs or alcohol.
They help you be healthy
Having strong social relationships can help you cope better with stress. Researchers have long known that chronic stress has inflammation producing, immune-disrupting effects on the human body – connected relationships are necessary to help people avoid the constant cloud of stress caused by missing out on crucial social connections.
As well as reducing stress, your friends make you generally healthier. Studies that compare biomarkers such as blood pressure, body mass index and waist circumference show that these measures were worse in people who had weaker social ties. A lack of social connections more than doubles the risk of high blood pressure – more even than having diabetes.
Human beings have a built-in need for friendships, and this is true throughout the entire span of our lives. Early isolation in children can lead to inflammatory compounds linked to the development of chronic disorders. A study found that dementia risk increases with people’s feeling of loneliness. People who are lonely also experience more reactivation of latent viruses in their system.
A landmark study in rats has also shown that social isolation can increase the risk of some cancers threefold, so persistent social ties over long periods of time are believed to have a therapeutic output that reduces stressors that cause some cancers and high blood pressure.
Friends help you think clearer
Having friends may improve your cognitive health and keep your mind sharp. The emotional support you receive from social ties enhances your psychological wellbeing, with studies supporting that people find a greater sense of meaning in life and had a stronger sense of purpose when they had good quality social relationships – and quality of relationship always trumps quantity.
People, as social animals have an overall cap on how many close friends they can have, so the better the quality of friends you have, the better it is for your mental and physical health!
Another great impact of close social ties is the moral and behavioural changes they impart in us. Being around and interacting with someone with strong willpower makes you yourself more likely to exert restraint – perhaps when it comes to unhealthy foods or lifestyle choices. The decisions we make have a profound effect on those close to us.
Food for thought
So there we have it – having friends is not just a good idea; it’s an innate necessity for us as a species. There is nothing better for the human mind, body and soul than having individuals to confide in and support you throughout the entire span of your life.
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