connection between friends and health

Want to make that hike up the hill a little easier? Take a friend. That’s the finding of a study published by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The study asked people to hike up an incline and report how steep they thought the climb was.

Participants who went with a friend said the slope was less steep than those who did it alone. And the longer the friends knew each other, the less steep the climb seemed to be.

That’s the power of friendship.

The Connection Between Friends and Health

A friendly smile, a welcome ear, a gentle touch – those simple things can sometimes make all the difference. And recent research is backing that up.

Numerous studies have found that friendship is beneficial to mental and physical health. Social connectedness, companionship, and shared experiences are an important part of our overall well-being.

According to an evaluation of 148 separate studies, friendship can reduce your risk of an early death. Loneliness, it seems, can be as bad for us as obesity or smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Researchers found that friendship might be better for your health than exercise.

Now you shouldn’t quit exercising, but you might want to evaluate how connected you are to those around you.

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How Is This Possible?

Intuitively, this seems to make sense. We feel better when we’re around our friends. But in scientific terms how, is this possible?

There’s no definitive answer, but health professionals point to a number of benefits of friends:

  • They share experiences, both the good times and the bad times
  • Friends increase your sense of belonging and purpose, as well as your sense of optimism
  • Friends can reduce your stress and offer relief
  • They improve your self-confidence and self-worth
  • They help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one
  • Friends encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise
  • They encourage you to get up and get out, helping you stay physically and mentally active

Researchers point out that quality is more important than quantity. You don’t win anything for having the most Facebook friends or the most likes. It’s helpful to have a diverse range of friends but to also have several close friends that you’ve known for a long time.

10 Tips on Making New Friends and Getting Involved in the Community

Making friends isn’t always easy. For some of us, the idea of meeting new people is terrorizing.

The CDC offers these tips to help the shy people among us meet new people:

  1. Go back to school—audit a class at a local college or take a class related to a hobby.
  2. Participate in sports—whether tai chi or tennis, there’s something for every interest and ability.
  3. Head outdoors—join a walking, hiking, or bird watching group.
  4. Make music—join a choir or band or take lessons.
  5. Get involved—participate with a church, temple, or other religious organization.
  6. Read, join, participate, or start a book club.
  7. Volunteer for a cause or group you’re passionate about.
  8. Take classes at a gym.
  9. Find (or start) a group that fits your passion —whether it’s knitting or carpentry.
  10. Indulge your creativity —join a cooking class, sign up for the choir, or take an art class.

It’s also important to be receptive to new relationships. When you are around people, here are some small steps to help you connect with them.

  • Share a smile and how they are.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Practice a random act of kindness.
  • Don’t wait for others to make the first move.
  • Follow up. You build friends by staying in touch.
  • Say “yes” to invitations (even when you want to say “no”).

Not All Friendships Are Created Equal: Beware of Toxic Friends

There are many benefits of friendship to our mental and physical health. But it should be noted that some friendships and relationships can be bad for us and our health.  While you want to have friends, these so-called “toxic friends” may be doing more harm than good for you.

You might want to re-think your relationship with friends who:

  1. Encourage bad behaviors like poor eating as well as drinking and smoking. Research has found that if you hang around smokers, you are more likely to continue to smoke.
  2. Are hyper competitive. Everything you do, they have to do better.
  3. Dominate every discussion and activity. If you can’t get a word in or the friend doesn’t listen to you.
  4. Are overly critical. Honesty is an important part of friendship. But friends should be more positive than negative. They shouldn’t be finding fault with everything you do.
  5. Want you to stay in a certain role. They may discourage you from trying new things or meeting new people.

It comes down to this: If you feel better, more optimistic, and/or more energetic when that person is not around, maybe that isn’t a good friendship to be in. You don’t have to cut them off completely, but you should consider spending much less time with them.   And there are times when we outgrow friendships because we have taken different paths.  It is okay to move forward from friendships if there is little common ground.  People will change and grow; so will our friendships.

Best Friends for Life

Life is full of ups and downs. As research has shown, living through life’s bumps and bruises can be easier when we’re supported by friends.

We’re never too old to enjoy our old friends or make new friends. So, call one of your friends today and open yourself to adding a couple of new ones. You may soon start feeling better and more positive.

If you find you can’t make friends or are suffering from long bouts of loneliness and depression, you are not alone. The professionals at PinnacleHealth Psychological Associates at UPMC Pinnacle can help. Call them at 717-231-8360.

Featuring Melissa Brown, PsyD

About UPMC Harrisburg

UPMC Harrisburg is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Harrisburg includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.

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