Is the concept of “friendship” in trouble? We hope not, because it turns out they are key to a long and healthy life.
Friendship is an important part of everyone’s life. Most Americans (about 98 percent) say that they have at least one good friend, and the average number of friends each person has is nine. So, it seems, friends really may make the world go round. However, just 25 years ago, people were reporting that they had 10 friends on average. The number of close friends has fallen as well.
Increases in social isolation would be pretty bad for Americans, who have already isolated themselves with technology. As it turns out, friendships may also have a significant impact on your health. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why.
Friends can actually help extend your life. You are less likely to die prematurely if you have a good group of friends than if you are isolated. Social ties like this impact life expectancy more than exercising or quitting smoking. The main reason for this is that the number of friendships you have are linked to the body’s way of processing stress. Social isolation can increase stress and cause some significant wear and tear on your body.
Friends make you healthier overall. This statement sounds kind of weird, but it is true. Looking at studies over a period of time, researchers have found that people who are socially isolated are more likely to be sick often or have chronic illness.
Friends help your mental health. Friends oftentimes make you feel like you belong with them, and that may be key for mental health. Older people with dementia often see an increase in symptoms when feelings of loneliness increase. This led researchers to believe that a lack of social attachments increases cognitive decline.
Friends are good (or bad) influences. Many headlines and news stories have alerted people that “obesity is contagious.” If your friends gain weight, it is likely you will also gain weight, but this is also true of losing weight, or being thin. Your friends influence you more than you know, for better or for worse.
Friends are great support systems. When you are going through hard times, you can usually lean on your best friend. Research has shown this has also worked in helping cancer patients to pull through treatment. Support groups and friendships may not extend the life of people going through hard times (mentally and physically), but it will improve their quality of life.
Friends can help you cope. We’ve all seen relationships that go badly, but friends can help you get through the rejection. They can also help you pick up the pieces and cope with your feelings. They are people you can lean on, always.
Friends can be there forever. Lifelong friends are a real concept. Even when people move away for work or school, friendships can be maintained. Oftentimes, friendships made during college years last for the length of a person’s life. Even if they don’t live near one another, many people keep in contact via telephone and email.
It seems your friendships can be crucial to your overall health, so make sure you focus on your friendships and the healthy relationships in your life. It can mean life or death.
Photo: Flickr: Corey Balazowich