Friends for Life!

Numerous studies have shown that having a group of good friends you can count on is invaluable and necessary for a healthy lifestyle. These studies are now demonstrating the importance and benefits of friendship using scientific evidence, but we all can relate to situations in our own lives that point to these same conclusions.

One study shows that people with the largest number of close friends outlive those with the fewest by 22 percent. Another study of women with breast cancer (published by Breast Cancer Research and Treatment) found that women with a large social support groups had a much higher survival rate.

Friendship improves mental health by helping us maintain brain function and improve memory as we age, adding to the quality of those extra years. The happiness of our friends is infectious and breads a more positive attitude on life. Having social support can protect against dementia, reduce the risk of depression and improve our outlook on life and life’s challenges.

Stress management is, in fact, one of the greatest gifts of friendship. When women gather with other women (and with children), they release more oxytocin, the feel-good hormone which has a marked calming effect. A strong network of friends helps lower blood pressure and reduces the risk of depression.

Sometimes, a bit of good old venting can be a real stress reliever too. Researchers speculate that cursing activates the stress response, boosting the body’s pain threshold to deal with crisis. So maybe you just need to shout out some four-letter words before letting your friends bring you back to a state of calm.

Social media such as Facebook work great as a quick fix to connect or reconnect with old friends, share photos, support a cause, play games and meet people with shared interests. However, a study in 2006 found a sharp decline in friendships. Don’t let the convenience of social media keep you from getting together in person whenever you can.

Finally, cherish the friends you have. They’re worth their weight in gold. We might not all be fire fighters or surgeons that save lives on a daily basis, but science now tells us that we just might extend someone’s life simply by being a part of it.

The secret seems to be choosing well-balanced, health-conscious friends and engaging together in health-promoting life-styles. So whether you are a « Golden Girl » or fabulous filly, don’t underestimate girl-power. After all, it’s in our DNA to benefit from friendship. Simply having a cup of coffee with a girlfriend, or reconnecting with someone you’ve lost touch with can lift your spirits and lead to a longer, happier, healthier life.

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