Socialize to stay healthy and live longer!
We all know it’s good to have friends. We know it’s reassuring to have someone to talk to when we have happy or sad news, when we are frustrated or when we need some good advice. But did you know that having good friends can decrease your chances of getting sick or contracting disease and significantly extend your life?
With our close girlfriends we can share our insecurities, longings, hopes and dreams. We can talk about things that we might not even share with our romantic partners. When we are having difficulty with our partners, we have someone else to turn to. With support we can count on we feel a sense of well-being and happiness. Dr. Joan Borysenko, a writer and scientist, has commented, “…reveling in loving friendship is one of the most powerful things we can do to sustain our physical and emotional health.”
You know how after an intimate conversation with a good friend you feel all warm and fuzzy? Well, there is a physical reason for this. A hormone called oxytocin is released in the body when women converse. This hormone calms the body and mind, leaving us relaxed and happier.
Research has verified the ability of friendships to act as a buffer between us and the sometimes harsh realities of life. Intimate friendships help us relieve stress and improve our mood. Researcher Tirril Harris studied the effect of having a confidante on 86 depressed women. After a year of regular meetings with “befrienders” who were assigned to them, 65% of the women recovered from their depression, compared with only 40% of those who were on the waiting list. The positive effects of friendship in this study were comparable to the positive effects of antidepressants. There is also an ongoing study, the Nurse’s Health Study, being conducted at Harvard Medical School, which has reported that the more good friends a women has, the less likely she is to develop physical impairments with age. Researchers at Brigham Young University also recently found that lacking friendships and other social connections is bad for health and longevity –twice as harmful as being obese, worse than not exercising, and equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day!
I can personally testify to this. My grandmother just turned 98. She is diabetic, yet loves chocolate and candy and doesn’t refrain from eating a little every day. She drinks diet coke, and has for most of her life. She loves bacon, fried chicken and Chinese food. You wouldn’t think this was the best recipe for a long life, but she has a host of friends and always has. She loves to socialize. She talks to friends all the time on the phone and almost daily someone will stop by just to visit. At 98 she still crochets, sews, works on her flower beds, participates in a monthly quilt club and keeps up with a local book club too. I attribute her good health to the fact that she has always had good friends to share her life with.
We know we need to put more effort into developing and maintaining good friendships, but this can be hard when we are so busy and move to new locations often. It also becomes hard when our life circumstances change; for example, when we get married, have children, go to school or start working full time. If we are willing to put in a little extra effort though, there are ways that anyone and everyone can do this.
Here are some ideas of ways you can begin to develop and maintain closer friendships:
- Ask someone you know if they would like to get together to knit, crochet or scrapbook. Try asking for help, many women feel more comfortable when they feel needed.
- Join a book club. If you don’t know of any, check with your local library, they usually have one.
- Host a game night. You could play cards or board games. If you have kids try chipping in for a babysitter who can watch them at a shared location.
- Let people know that you are looking for a workout buddy to help keep you motivated. See if anyone volunteers.
- Join a support group if you have a particular difficulty or issue. There are support groups for new moms, breastfeeding moms, moms who have preschool children, people who suffer from depression, add/adhd and other mental disorders, people who have to follow a specific diet and many others.
- Take an adult education class through a community college. These classes are inexpensive and don’t require much homework time. You can learn pottery, painting, creative writing, a foreign language and, of course, meet some great women who share common interests.
Also, be careful not to be too set in your idea of what an ideal friend would look like for you or what age they would be. Like minds and hearts from any age or background can come together to share common emotions, ideas and caring support. Remember that sadness, grief, dreams, joy and love are universal experiences we all share.
By, Jennifer Lynn Buchanan
April 8, 2011