Health Benefits of Having Good Friends
You stand to gain a lot from having good friends, perhaps more than you might have thought. They might drive you crazy at times, but the benefits of having a reliable friend circle is unlike any other. There’s even a song by Bette Midler that emphasizes the need to have some good friends if you wish to stretch each day that bit longer. And now, even a decade long study conducted by the Center for Aging Studies at Flinders University, Australia corroborates the above. The study involved about 1,500 elderly people and revealed that those who have a large network of friends tend to live longer by about 22% than those who have the least number of friends.
The reason for this trend can be the fact that good friends will always discourage you from acquiring bad habits like smoking or alcoholism. Also, good times spent in the company of your friends acts as a deterrent to disorders like depression or loneliness. On the other hand, they help boost your self-esteem and provide you with support when you need them most. With advancing age, people become more selective as far as their choice of friends is concerned and hence, spend more time with those whom they like.
However, close family ties or an excellent relationship with children doesn’t seem to have any effect on the life expectancy of a person. Thus, though family ties are important, they don’t have much impact on longevity.
Health Benefits of Having Good Friends
A lot of research work has proved the positive influence that a strong social support can have on our health. For instance, a research finding published in the journal Cancer that covered 61 women in advanced stages of ovarian cancer, it was found that those women with better social support have significantly lower levels of a protein known as interleukin 6, or IL-6. Since this protein is associated with aggressive cancer types, its presence in lower amounts means better chemotherapy action. On the other hand, those who lacked social support reported higher levels of the said protein, which was as much as 70% higher than average and two-and-a-half times more in the area surrounding the tumor.
Another research work conducted in 1989 at Stanford University came up with similar results. In a landmark paper published in Lancet, the study showed women with breast cancer who took part in social activities suffered much less pain and went on to live twice as long as those with less exposure on the social front.
In a similar study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, it was shown that people with a dependable network of friends and relatives were in a better position to deal with stress. The study showed that friends not only come in handy during adverse situations, they also chip in with material aid and information, apart from the much needed emotional support that is so very important for overcoming stress situations. Having good friends does have other benefits as well, like you tend to take better care of yourself in the company of your friends. An active friend circle also ensures you have better control over your lives and is never short on self-esteem.
On the other hand, those without a network of friends have a higher risk of succumbing to a heart attack. In fact, studies have even proved that you stand a better chance of preventing common cold if you have lots of friends around you. This, in spite of the fact that your exposure to viruses is greater when you spend more time with them.
Research has also indicated substantially lower chances of acquiring cardiovascular problems or immunity related disorders among those who have better social contacts. They also have lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol in their blood stream. The reason that experts believe can explain such behavior among people is perhaps embedded in our genes and the way we have evolved into what we are now. We are after all social beings and our ancestors have flourished only in groups. We have always depended on others for our basic survival. That perhaps makes us more comfortable and at peace when we are in the company of others, all of which equates to better health for us.
Friends Can be Troublesome As Well
After all the discourse on the virtues of having friends, let’s face the other side of the coin, that friends too can cause stress to us. In fact, friends can be a greater source of stress for us than anybody else simply because we tend to care so much for them. Experts have also proved that people who arise conflicted feelings in us can contribute to a greater rise in our blood pressure than those whom we don’t get along with well enough.
A particular case that researchers were interested in is a relationship that had shades of both white and black. Take for instance the case of your mother. While your mother may be extremely beloved to you, there are times you may still find her to be too overbearing or critical.
What the researchers did was attach portable blood pressure machines on some people that came up with some very interesting results. For instance, when dealing with people that aroused feelings of uncertainty or indecisiveness in them, blood pressure was found to be significantly higher than in those cases where they dealt with people for whom they didn’t harbor any positive thoughts. These led experts to conclude that we are more vulnerable to get hurt from those people we really care about. So while friends can really help us cope with stress, a derogatory comment or indifferent feeling from a friend can also lead to stress and anxiety.
But that should not make us to think of ways to get rid of our friends. The reason that experts cite for this is that shrinkage in our social network has a direct bearing on our longevity, as it leads to an increase in mortality.
Loneliness and its Impact on Us
Lets turn our focus to those who are loners and whether they face a greater risk of untimely death just because they prefer to be alone.
Research has proved that prevalence of drugs is more among young people who are loners. Older people too are more prone to have high blood pressure and poor quality of sleep if they are lonely. This can also lead to them feeling tense and anxious.
In another research study, college freshers who didn’t lead an active social life and preferred to be alone have been found to exhibit weaker immune responses to flu vaccinations. Stress hormone levels were also found to be much higher in their blood.
Unfortunately, a recent study paints a bleak picture of how Americans now tend to have fewer friends than what it used to be. Published in the American Sociological Review, the study revealed some startling facts. For instance, from 1985 to 2004, the number of Americans who think they have close accomplices with whom they can discuss important matters have shrunk by as much as one-third. Similarly, the number of people who feel they lack close associates with whom they could discuss such matters has tripled to almost 25%. What the study also revealed is the people who engage in important discussion with their family members has shown an increase from 57% to 80% while those who discuss such matters with their spouse has increased from 5% to 9%.
Experts attribute this trend to an increase in working hours and the popularity of the Internet, which may be acting as a deterrent to the development of close relationships.
How Friendship With a Woman Can Be Different From That With a Man
Research has shown that women are better performers when it’s about maintaining friendships than men. It is women’s nature to tend and befriend, as it is all but natural for them to be protecting and nurturing to others or to seek help from others during stress situations. This pattern is what regulates seeking, giving, and receipt of social support. Health benefits of this are immense since it is a great way to reduce psychological and biological stress.
What the study also showed is that men and women have a different way to relate to others throughout their life. Women are more empathetic in nature while men exhibit selflessness. For instance, a man’s friendship is more about unselfish concern for the welfare of others, like mending the land mower and so on. On the other hand, a woman’s friendship is more geared towards emotional feelings, like listening to a friend’s problem and suggesting ways to rectify them.