How Friends Keep you Healthy
Want to lower your blood pressure, live longer and stay sharp? The key is right on your speed dial.
Our friends are the ones we choose, the ones we want to invite to the party. But did you know those handpicked companions are also scientifically proven to help us lead longer, healthier lives?
“Because you choose friends with similar values and belief systems, they’re often better equipped than family to provide comfort and motivation,” says Encino, California, psychologist Debra Mandel.
Having buddies is so good for us, researchers say, that its opposite—social isolation—is a risk factor akin to smoking, high blood pressure and obesity. Here are four ways your social circle keeps you in the pink.
Controlling your blood pressure:
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans, and high blood pressure is often the primary cause. But according to new findings in the journal Psychology and Aging, friends can help keep it in check. In the four-year study of 229 people between ages 50 and 68, those identified as the loneliest experienced a 10 percent spike in blood pressure. Even the “modestly” lonely were affected, said lead researcher Louise Hawkley, noting that “loneliness behaved as though it is a risk factor in its own right.”
Helping you stay fit:
Whether it’s climbing a steep hill with a heavy backpack (like subjects in a University of Virginia study), losing weight or sticking to a workout program, enlisting a buddy makes a task seem less daunting. In the University of Virginia study, those who trekked with a friend perceived the hill to be less steep than those who sweated their way to the summit alone. And in a University of Connecticut study of 189 women, strong social support proved to be a key factor in whether they stuck with a workout plan for a year or more.
Helping you live longer:
It’s not family ties, but friendly ties that aid longer life, according to data from the 10-year Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging, completed in 2004, which followed nearly 1,500 people ages 70 years and older. After adjusting for other factors that affect longevity, researchers found that those with a strong social network were 22 percent less likely to die during the study. The friends-longevity link was so strong it persisted despite stressful events such as the death of a spouse or the relocation of a loved one.
In a Harvard study of the elderly, memory among those with few friends declined at double the rate of folks with plenty of pals. And the finding gets added support from a Kaiser Permanente study in which strong friendships were shown to protect folks from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Seems exchanging information, opinions and ideas—even if it’s about the latest Hollywood scandal—can keep a person’s thinking keen.