Single this Valentine’s? That’s fine. A girl doesn’t need a guy to be happy and healthy — she just needs really good friends. Research shows that having really close friends and regularly meeting with up can actually improve your health and well-being.
- Friends can help you live longer — and get sick less
- Friends can help you lose weight
- Friends lower your risk for high blood pressure
- Friends can lower your risk for dementia
- Friends can help fight cancer
- Not having friends is like “smoking 15 cigarettes a day”
- Social media can increase feelings of isolation
- Stay away from toxic friends
Friends can help you live longer — and get sick less
Did you know that having good friends is even more effective at increasing your lifespan than exercising and quitting smoking? A 2010 review of research that studied over 300,000 participants showed that those with strong social relationships lived longer.
Researchers believe that friendships helped people cope better with stress (which affects your heart and your immune system). So it is true: friends do make you stronger!
Friends can help you lose weight
Forget those fancy and expensive diet and weightloss programs: statistics show that the biggest factor in any fitness regimen is moral support.
People who work out with fitness buddies, or have friends or family who support their lifestyle changes and help them celebrate little victories, tend to lose more weight and keep it off.
Fitness coach Grace Matthews says, “People think that fitness is about mind over matter, but it’s also heart over mind. The mind can create excuses and justifications to skip workouts or drop diets. But if you need feel motivated, supported, encouraged and inspired, you will not give in to negative thoughts. Since everyone has mood swings, you need a friend who will help you refocus and believe in yourself, whenever you’re losing steam.”
Friends lower your risk for high blood pressure
A study published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people who were isolated or lonely doubled their risk for high blood pressure (124%). For context, having diabetes increases your risk by “just” 70%. So, manage your sugar levels but also manage your schedule, so you don’t lose touch with your friends. Your regular girls’ day out is just as critical for your health as your doctor’s appointments.
Friends can lower your risk for dementia
Dementia and age-related loss of memory and cognitive functions are worsened by isolation. The older you get, the more you need activities and friendships that keep your mind active.
And, according to a 2012 Netherlands study, loneliness heightens the dementia and the accompanying feelings of depression. Psychologist Anna Brown, who works as a consultant at senior care centers, says: “You can prescribe medicines, but none are as effective as daily interactions with friends and family. You can’t replicate human connections in a capsule.”
Friends can help fight cancer
WebMD cites a study where people with ovarian cancer who had a lot of social support had much lower levels of a protein linked to more aggressive cancers. This improved the effectivity of their chemotherapy treatments.
“There may be broader effects as well,” says psychologist Sheldon Cohen, PhD. “Friends encourage you to take better care of yourself. And people with wider social networks are higher in self-esteem, and they feel they have more control over their lives.”
Not having friends is like “smoking 15 cigarettes a day”
An HRSA report says that loneliness is a real epidemic, which can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. “Poor social relationships were associated with a 29% increase in risk of coronary heart disease and a 32% rise in the risk of stroke.”
Social media can increase feelings of isolation
Theoretically, social media networks should help you stay connected to people — but it’s actually encouraging the opposite. Even if you have over a thousand followers/friends, social media often pushes you into a game of getting likes and comments. You also tend to filter your social media image, or compare your life to other people’s posts. This can feed feelings of isolation and depression.
Social media can’t replace social interactions, and hundreds of Facebook friends can’t replace those 2 or 3 best friends who you see or speak to in “the real world.”
So even if you and your friends have a group chat, do make time for meet-ups or — if you’re spread out over different continents — group calls.
Stay away from toxic friends
Some friends can help you manage stress, and some (honestly) create stress. We’re all familiar with frenemies, draining cliques and That Friend who always manages to make everything about her. The health benefits of friends come from healthy relationships, where there’s give-and-take, emotional connection, and unconditional support.
While you can’t unfriend every annoying person in your life, know who you can trust, and refuse to let the “fake friends” affect you emotionally. “There’s a difference between people you hang out with, people you share a hobby or history with, and people who you open up with. Even if you just have one friend who gets you, that one friend is worth more than 100 fake friends,” says psychologist Tracy Corbin.