Good friends are good for your health

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Good friends are good for your health

From the day we are born to the day we die, humans have an inherent need to be close to other people.  On day one, we are solely dependent on the nurturing love from our parents to help us grow and develop.  As years go by, that nurturing care and love includes extended family, friendships and romantic relationships as we meet other individuals who cross our paths.  Healthy relationships we form with others are vital to our mental and emotional wellbeing and survival.  What a gift to have healthy platonic or romantic relationships with several people. But what exactly does a healthy relationship look like?

Defining healthy relationships

Think of at least three people you feel close to. They could be family members, childhood friends, work colleagues, or your spouse or significant other.  Likely, if asked, you would state the reason you feel closeness to them is because of a positive relationship that has been shared between you both.  Anytime two people feel mutually close to each other, romantically or not, it’s usually due to the love, support, encouragement, and sharing of life experiences that build an emotionally strong bond. 

People who have such healthy relationships with others tend to possess the following traits:

·      They listen to each other

·      They communicate openly and without judgement

·      They trust and respect each other

·      They consistently make time for each other

·      They remember details about each other’s lives

·      They engage in healthy activities together

Various studies have looked at the positive effects a healthy relationship can have on your health.  Having healthy friendships not only enrich your life but also has a major impact on your health and well-being. Here are some significant ways that good friends are good for your health:

·      Friends help your through tough times

We all need someone to lean on at times during our lives. Especially when going through a major health ordeal such as cancer. A major study published in the journal The Lancet found that women with breast cancer who attended support groups with other cancer patients reported a better quality of life and lived longer. 

You don’t necessarily have to join a support group but just having a supportive, caring friend or two can make a world of difference on helping you through stressful times.  They can listen, talk you through a situation or simply be there when you need them most.

·      Friends might help you stay mentally sharp

Having friends who make you feel like you belong may be a key for better physical health.  A 2012 study found that older people dementia’s risk increased with their feelings of loneliness.

The study found it’s not so much being alone as feeling lonely that was associated with dementia onset.  It appeared to be the perceived absence of social attachments that increases the risk of cognitive decline. A person can be living in a city surrounded by millions and still feel lonely.  Yet another person with a network of friends living in a small town of only a few hundred can feel like the luckiest person in the world.

·      Friends may lead to better healing

Whether it’s having someone reminding you to take your medicine or a partner helping you take your mind off the pain, research suggests that married people who have undergone heart surgery are three times more likely to survive the first three months after surgery than single patients. Married partners also reported feeling more confident about their ability to handle post-surgery pain and were less worried about the surgery in general.  A little emotional support can go a long way toward helping a person recover from a procedure or illness.

·      Friends can help lead you to healthier behaviors

Healthy friendships set the tone for an overall healthier lifestyle. If your spouse, friends, or other loved ones encourage eating healthy foods, exercise, and not smoking, etc., you are likely to follow in their footsteps. It’s a lot easier to take on healthy behaviors when you surround yourself with people who are doing the same. 

·      Friends give you a greater sense of purpose

A natural want of humans is to feel needed and like they are part of something bigger. Many of us strive to feel like we are doing something good for someone else and improving the world in some way.  Being in a loving relationship, no matter what kind, can give you a sense of well-being and purpose. 

·      Friends may extend your life

People with strong social relationships are less likely to die prematurely than people who are isolated.  In fact, according to a 2010 review of research, the effect of social ties on life span is twice as strong as that of exercising and equivalent to that of quitting smoking.

All of us are unique with our own needs and desires when it comes to relationships, handling stress, and living a healthy, meaningful life. You may be someone who enjoys being alone, which is okay, but making a couple of close relationships with others could mean noticeable benefits to your mental and physical health.

Having at least one close friend (or trusted co-worker, therapist or counselor) to help walk you through issues like social anxiety or depression can be a literal lifesaver.  Those one or two strong healthy relationships in your life can be just what you need to have a positive effect on your health.