Invest in your friendships

Health

Our culture celebrates individualism and “me time,” but too much independence may take a toll on your health. Research links loneliness to certain illnesses, a shorter life span, and mental decline. In fact, researchers at Brigham Young University found that infrequent social interaction is nearly as damaging to your health as being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Health-wise, you have much more to gain by being a social butterfly than a loner.

Here are the powerful benefits of bonding with a buddy, plus tips on making better friends:

  • Buddies are good for your brain. Activities with your friends that keep you mentally and physically stimulated are essential to preventing or delaying age-related cognitive issues, such as memory loss and dementia. Researchers at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago found that Alzheimer’s patients with strong social connections experienced significantly less memory loss than patients with fewer friends. Also, lonely people have twice the risk of developing dementia, according to research.
  • Pals promote a healthier heart. Cherished friendships not only make you feel loved but also can help support your cardiovascular health. Research shows that heart attack patients with weak social support systems are more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes than people with stronger networks.
  • BFF’s boost your immunity. Did you know that you are less likely to catch a cold if you have a lot of friends? Research shows that people with a diverse social group have a greater resistance to upper respiratory infections.
  • Hanging with friends helps you live longer. According to the Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging, seniors with the most friends outlived those with the fewest by 22 percent. This 10-year study also showed that you need more than just your kids and significant other in your circle—camaraderie among friends increased longevity more significantly than family relationships.
  • Companionship improves cancer odds. Friendships are an important factor for coping with and recovering from cancer. One study showed that breast cancer patients who lacked a social network were four times more likely to die from the disease than those with at least 10 close friends. Research at the University of Chicago also showed that loneliness accelerated the growth of breast tumors.
  • Socializing soothes stress. There’s actually a biological reason why you feel calmer after you call friend. Women who turned to friends in stressful situations experienced a release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin, according to a UCLA study. 

How to boost your buddy system
Does your social network need a little strengthening? You’re not alone. According to a 2013 report, 75 percent of Americans are not truly satisfied with their friendships. But you can buck the trend by making pals a priority. One idea: Deepen a casual relationship to make it a stronger friendship. Invite an acquaintance to an outing or party, or chat on the phone more regularly to build a better bond. How about that dear old friend that you’ve lost track of over the years? Reconnect on Facebook and play catch-up. If you crave new companionship, you’re likely to find someone who shares your interests at a community club or by signing up for a class. Finally, don’t neglect the friendships you already have. Make an effort to spend quality time together, whether you meet for lunch, go shopping together, or have a weekly phone session. Your health will thank you for it.

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