Benefits of a BFF: How Friendships Affect Your Life & Health

November 20, 2011  |  
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In the quest for better health, many people turn to doctors, self-help books or herbal supplements.  They overlook a powerful weapon that could help them fight illness and depression, speed recovery, and slow aging; their friends.  Studies have been conducted all over the world that prove friends not only benefit your well-being, but they can actually make you live longer!

Check out these 10 benefits friendships bring to your life….

1. Overall Health

A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends.  And last year, Harvard researchers reported that strong social ties could promote brain health as we age.  Beyond the immediate increase in well being that comes with each hour of social time, the long-term benefits can be even more profound. A study of more than 15,000 people over the age of 50 found that among those who were socially active, their memories declined at less than half the rate compared to those who were the least social.

2. Fighting Breast Cancer

In 2006, a study of nearly 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends. And notably, proximity and the amount of contact with a friend wasn’t associated with survival. Just having friends was protective.  Even having a spouse wasn’t associated with survival.

3. Men Benefit Too

While many friendship studies focus on the intense relationships of women, some research shows that men can benefit, too. In a six-year study of 736 middle-age Swedish men, attachment to a single person didn’t appear to affect the risk of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease, but having friendships did. Only smoking was as important a risk factor as lack of social support.

4. Illness Frequency

People with very few social ties have nearly twice the risk of dying from heart disease and are twice as likely to catch colds — even though they are less likely to have the exposure to germs that comes from frequent social contact.

5. Marital Relationships

A team of researchers conducted an experiment to test 42 married couples and their ability to heal from several small wounds on their arms.  The results revealed that it took almost twice as long for the wounds to heal for couples who reported having hostility in their relationship. So if you’re in a strained relationship, it could extend the time it takes for you to recover from surgery or a major injury. As scientists continue to explore the connection between our relationships and our health, they are discovering that our social well being might have even more influence on how quickly we recover than conventional risk factors.

6. Proximity Matters

Another implication from this research is that proximity matters. A friend who lives within a mile of you will likely have more influence on your well-being than a friend who lives several miles away. Even your next-door neighbor’s well-being has an impact on yours.

7.  Mutual Friends

Because your entire social network affects your health, habits, and well being, mutual friendships matter even more. These are relationships in which you and one of your close friends share a friendship with a third person. Investing in these mutual relationships will lead to even higher levels of well being. This is why it is critical for us to do what we can to strengthen the entire network around us. Simply put, we have stock in others’ well being.

8. Time Matters

In addition to close relationships and proximity, the sheer amount of time we spend socializing matters. The data suggest that to have a thriving day, we need six hours of social time. When we get at least six hours of daily social time, it increases our well-being and minimizes stress and worry. Just so you don’t think that six hours of social time is unattainable in one day, it’s important to note that the six hours includes time at work, at home, on the telephone, talking to friends, sending e-mail, and other communication.

9. Workplace Bonds

One study revealed that just 30% of employees have a best friend at work and those who do are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well being, and are less likely to get injured on the job. In sharp contrast, those without a best friend in the workplace have just a 1 in 12 chance of being engaged. The single best predictor is not what people are doing, but who they are with. According to a study conducted by a team of MIT researchers, even small increases in social cohesiveness lead to large gains in production.

10. Positive Outlook

Last year, researchers studied 34 students at the University of Virginia, taking them to the base of a steep hill and fitting them with a weighted backpack. They were then asked to estimate the steepness of the hill. Some students stood next to friends during the exercise, while others were alone.  The students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the steepness of the hill. And the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared.  “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.”


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