Related: Visit our friendship section
Recent research undertaken by counselling organisation Relate has revealed that as many as one in ten of us feel like we don’t have any close friends – that’s nearly 5 million people in the UK. There are, however, more and more studies revealing the reasons we should try to remedy that. Because, according to scientists, friendships make you healthier.
Related: How to make new friends
Lower blood pressure
A study published in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people without friends or social connections raised the risk of higher blood pressure by 124% compared to those who did have a social network.
Related: 10 ways to lower your blood pressure
Better weight control…
…or worse! Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that when your friends are obese, you’re more likely to become obese too. But the same study produced some good news - being slim is contagious too.
It’s logical – if all your friends avoid exercise and eat unhealthily you’re likely to do the same. Similarly, if you see all your friends tucking into salads and going for regular walks or swims, for example, you’re more likely to try them too.
Related: Strange diet tricks that just might work
Friendship has such a powerful effect on your overall health that one study from Brigham Young University, USA, found having friends could decrease your risk of early death as much as giving up smoking.
Interestingly, the researchers noted that it was the strength of people’s relationships, i.e. how closely they rated themselves as being with their friends, as well as their integration into the community, which was correlated with living longer.
Factors such as living alone were not correlated with longevity – so regardless of whether someone lived alone their longevity was only changed depending on how they valued or rated their social network outside of the home.
Related: The five most important lifestyle changes for a longer, healthier life
This may be the root cause of many of the other health benefits seen in people who have a solid friend network. Friends can help reduce your stress levels by helping out, offering advice, by listening or simply by being there. And with reduced stress, you reduce your risk of many health problems.
When you’re stressed cortisol is released, and if that stress is repeated regularly, the result can be high cortisol levels, which in turn leads to weight gain and high blood pressure and many other problems. So a solid friendship or two can make a big difference.
Related: Learn more about how stress affects your health
A brighter mind
Feeling lonely seems to put you at greater risk of dementia. A study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry found that study participants who reported feeling lonely were more than twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those who weren’t.
However, based on their findings, the researchers say that ‘feeling lonely’ isn’t necessarily simply a question of ‘do you have any friends?’, as some people reported feeling lonely despite having social networks.
The key is to find people you feel connected with and that might require reaching out. With all the health benefits you’ll get, not to mention the pleasure of company, it’s worth the effort.
Related: Fight loneliness and improve your health
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