Can Friendship Improve Our Health?

friendshipWhenever we have health problems, we tend to turn to doctors, self-help books, or even herbal supplements and alternative treatments.  However, we seem to overlook one essential tool that can help us fight illnesses as well speed up recovery, slow the aging process, and prolong life:  Our friends.

Recent studies have been focusing on the importance of friends and social networks and their effect on our overall health.  A decade-old study in Australia found out that elderly people with a large circle of friends were less likely to die during that time compared to those with fewer friends.  Meanwhile, another study conducted in 2007 showed that people whose friends had gained weight are nearly 60 percent prone of having obesity.  Another research by health experts in Harvard University reported that strong social ties can promote brain health as we get older.

Although many of these studies involving friendship focus on relationships between women, some studies show that these findings can be applied among male friends as well.  In a six-year study among middle-age Swedish men, being attached to a single person did not seem to affect the risk of heart disease, but having friendships do.

Scientists are still baffled on how our social circles can affect our health.  The theorize that it could be because having strong social ties also means having better access to health services and care.  However, the benefits can go well beyond the superficial as friendships can have a profound psychological effect.  For instance, people with stronger friendships are less likely to get colds, perhaps due to lower stress levels.

In another study, researchers brought 34 students at the University of Virginia to the base of a steel hill and fitted them with a weighted backpack.  The students were then asked to estimate the steepness of the hill.  Some of the participants stood next to friends during this study, while others are alone.  The researchers have found that the students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the hill’s steepness.  And the longer these friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared.

Even without these studies, you can certainly feel how having caring and supportive friends enable to you to live through life in a healthy, more vibrant way.