The Healthy Link Between Friends and Well-Being

By on December 1, 2012
two women looking at computer

By Diane Gage Lofgren & Margaret Bhola –

We know a healthy diet, moderate exercise, and ample sleep improve your health. Now add having friends to the equation and your chances of increased well-being just got better. It’s not only that friends make you feel good emotionally (well most of the time), but being with people you enjoy decreases your risk for developing physical impairments and increases longevity.

You may be saying, “No sweat, I have plenty of friends.” But ask yourself, “Will you have the friends you need when you need friends the most?” Do you have the kind of friends, we call “intention holders,” who always have your best intentions in mind? Unfortunately, with busy lives, it’s easy to have people in your life—at work, volunteer organizations, social functions, and even on Facebook and Twitter—who count as acquaintances and colleagues but not true friends. Can you call them to meet for lunch or to confide in when all hell breaks loose? A recent article in The Atlantic by Steph Marche points out that even with how connected people are today, humans have never felt as lonely, and it’s negatively impacting us physically and mentally.

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On the other hand, studies show that having friends—real voice-to-voice and in-person friends—adds to your overall vitality. According to Dr. Oz and co-author Dr. Roizen, when you have friends, you can cut your risks of memory loss by half. Friends also up your chances of staying mobile and increase your ability to manage your life by 150 percent.

And there’s more good news. If you have a high-quality network of friends around, you’re more likely to heal better after breast cancer.  In fact, a Harvard study showed that people without close circles of friends were four times more likely to die of the disease.

What is it about friends that can be such an elixir? A landmark UCLA study found that being around friends increase the body’s ability to create oxytocin, a hormone that decreases stress and creates calm by reducing cortisol in the body and lowering blood pressure. Some call it the trust hormone, and you can bring it on with an act as simple as looking at or hugging your friend.

On the other hand, loneliness increases epinephrine, the stress hormone, says John Cacioppo, director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, and the world’s leading expert on loneliness, in The Atlantic article cited above.

So don’t wait another day to take stock of your friends and ensure you have a safety net of people you can depend on, share time with, and enjoy each other’s company. Avoid letting excuses like “I don’t have time” or “How can I find common ground?” deter you. And, stop worrying about what to do. Go on a walk, visit a museum, hunt for bargains, get away to golf or enjoy a spa, or sip a virtual glass of wine together while chatting by phone. No matter what you do with your friends, it will nourish your body and soul. And remember, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world!”

Diane Gage Lofgren and Margaret Bhola are the authors of Women I Want to Grow Old With that sprang from Diane and Margaret’s mutual desire to foster their female friendships–and their friendship with each other. Diane is the author of nine books and the Chief Communication Officer for a national health organization. Margaret, a health advocate, effective leader and team coach, is a National Marketing Director for NSA International.

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The Healthy Link Between Friends and Well-Being