Friends Can Save Your Life

How Friends Keep You Healthy

Sometimes it’s not easy to stay in touch with friends and distant family members, but there’s every reason in the world to do it. Not only do tight friendships and strong family offer an emotional connection, research shows when we have close ties, especially with upbeat buddies, we’re more likely to take better care of ourselves, feel less stressed – even live longer. 

A research team at Brigham Young University in Utah reviewed 148 studies that tracked the social interactions and health of 308,849 people over an average of 7.5 years. From these they worked out how death rates varied depending on how sociable a person was. Their conclusion? Being alone and isolated was equivalent to being an alcoholic, was more harmful than not exercising, was twice as harmful as obesity and had the negative health impact of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

A good relationship is invaluable; it supports us during difficult times and helps us find the deeper meaning in life. In other words, when we feel connected to other people, researchers found we not only feel responsible for others but gain a sense of purpose and meaning in life – which leads us to take better care of ourselves. The study was published in the Public Library of Science journal Plus Medicine.

Other studies show that healthy relationships make aging more enjoyable, lessen grief, and provide support to help us reach personal goals, among other benefits. It turns out, maintaining positive relationships should rank right up there with healthy eating and exercise as a necessary investment in our health.   But not every friendship is beneficial. A mildly or chronically depressed friend can bring you down as well. Studies show if your friend engages in bad habits like eating a poor diet, never exercising, or complaining all the time, you may follow the same path. So choose your close friends wisely.  Robin Westen is ThirdAge’s medical reporter. Check for her daily updates. See what others have to say about this story or leave a comment of your own.     
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