23 April 2009

What Can Friends Do for Your Health? A Lot!

Want a powerful weapon to fight illness or depression? Friends. Want to speed your illness recovery time? Friends. Want to slow down your aging and prolong your life? Yes, friends!

Friends and other social networks are powerful tools in your personal arsenal for wellness. It took a ten year study from Australia to figure out what sociable people had figured out long ago: a support network boosts and helps maintain our health.

What the study revealed is that the older people who have a circle of friends were less likely to die during that decade of study by 22% than those with far fewer friends.

This past year Harvard researchers have found out that the friendships of strong social ties go a long way to brain health as we age.

At the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, a professor of sociology by the name of Rebecca G. Adams, was baffled there is so little research done of friendships. Plenty is done on the family and marriage relationships but not friends. Amazingly, it is the friendships in our lives that has a stronger psychological impact and well-being on us than family ones.

In 2006, there was a study done of 3,000 nurses who had breast cancer. Researchers discovered that "the women without close friends were four times more likely to die from the disease as the women who had at least 10 close friends or more." Interestingly enough, how close by the friends lived did not matter nor did how often they contacted them. Just the fact they had friends who were part of their support group helped with their survival.

A psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Bella DePaulo, notes that having a spouse isn't associated with survival. It's friendship that has proved more helpful than spouses or family members in many studies.

Most of these studies cited were focued upon the friendships of women. Researchers believe men can also benefit from friendships. There was a six-year study done in Sweden on middle-aged men. They found friendships helped with the risk of heart attack and fatal coronary disease. They also found smoking was a negative like a lack of social support.

Researchers are still speculating as to why the dynamics of friendship are so effective. They postulate that those people with friends experience less stress as studies show they contract fewer colds than those without good support.

“People with stronger friendship networks feel like there is someone they can turn to,” said Karen A. Roberto, director of the center for gerontology at Virginia Tech. “Friendship is an undervalued resource. The consistent message of these studies is that friends make your life better.”

Written by Denny Lyon
Photo by Gwennypics @ flickr

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