What are the health benefits of friendship?

For most people, friendships are an integral part of life. Sharing experiences is part of being human. And numerous studies have shown that loneliness has a negative effect on our well-being. Friendship has a positive impact on mental health, but can it also have physical benefits? Medical News Today reviews the evidence and interviews experts to find out why friendships are good for our health and well-being.

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We know friendships are important, but how exactly do they benefit our health? Image credit: Maria Soledad Kubat/Stocksy.

We don’t need to be social all the time – sometimes we need to take advantage of our own space – but everyone needs social interactions.

This is why people make friends and work to maintain those friendships. And quality friendships will benefit everyone involved.

Human beings are a social species. Since the earliest times, people have needed cooperate to survive, and we still do. We are not alone in this – most animals have social interactions and rely on cooperation.

Although animal friendships have been derided anthropomorphism, to research has now shown that some animals form stable, long-term relationships, much like human friendships.

Of course, not all animals have such friendships – as far as we know, these are limited to those that live in stable social groupssuch as higher primates, elephants and cetaceanslike whales and dolphins.

The basis of friendship is to value each other – each individual offers something of value to another individual.

As humans, we value others for all kinds of reasons. They might like the same things we do, hold similar political views, or maybe help with work or chores.

Once we have decided that we like someone, more often than not we will work to maintain that friendship.

Talk with Medical News Today, Dr Scott Kaisera geriatrician and director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, had this to say about the role of friendship in the evolution of humanity:

“Research suggests that evolution has continually chosen to increase social bonding with social interaction and networks playing a major role in people’s survival. According to this framework, our ancestors formed social bonds – by working together , sharing food and helping each other in other ways – to feel safe and protected.

“Humans are wired to connect and social connections are an essential part of good health and well-being – we need them to survive and thrive, just like we need food, water and oxygen. “, said Dr. Kaiser.

As children, most of us find it easy to make friends, but adults may find it more difficult. The good news is that the benefits of childhood friendships stay with us well into adulthood.

In a studythe boys were followed at age 32. Those who said they had lots of friends in childhood had lower blood pressure and were more likely to be at a healthy weight than those who were less social.

And it’s not just close friendships that are good for us. People of all ages benefit from any type of social interaction. A study 2017 in “SuperAgers” – octogenarians who have the memory abilities of those several decades younger – found that they had far higher levels of positive social relationships than those who had the cognitive abilities expected for their age.

According a 2014 study“loneliness is not caused by being alone, but by the absence of a well-defined necessary relationship or set of relationships.”

The study went on to suggest that loneliness can lead to many psychiatric disorders, such as depression, personality disorders, alcohol use and sleep disturbances, and can even contribute to physical health problems.

So, does socializing help protect against mental health disorders? Almost certainly, as Lee Chamberspsychologist and founder of Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing, said DTM.

“Having friends,” he noted, “has the potential to shield us from the impact of loneliness, and having effective friendships can shield us from the damaging effects of loneliness.”

But what is an effective friendship? According a studyquality friendships are more likely to be characterized by support, reciprocity and intimacy.

Effective friendships provide a strong sense of camaraderie, alleviate feelings of loneliness, and contribute to both life satisfaction and self-esteem.

And there is a positive feedback loop between social relationships and self-esteem – each reinforces the other. So friendships boost self esteemwhich is a protective factor for physical and mental health.

Lack of social interaction not only affects our mental health. Studies have shown that a low quantity or quality of social connections is linked to many medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and impaired immune function.

“Social isolation and loneliness have negative health effects on par with obesity, physical inactivity and smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and are associated with an increased risk of dementia of about 50 %. Just take a moment [to] connecting with someone — even through a brief phone call — can reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression and provide brain-protective benefits.

– Dr. Scott Kaiser

A meta-analysis 2010 of 148 studies – examining data from a total of 308,849 people – found that participants with stronger social connections had a 50% higher chance of surviving an average of 7.5 years than those without .

This study concluded that “[s]Social relationship-based interventions represent a major opportunity to improve not only quality of life but also survival.

The chambers agreed:

“Studies have shown that strong friendships can reduce risk factors for poor long-term health, including waist circumference, blood pressure and levels of inflammation. Emotional support plays an important role in this. , with someone to listen, validate feelings, and be a positive distraction, an important structure in modern life, alongside encouragement and support to adopt healthier behaviors and improve health outcomes.

This support and encouragement can benefit even those who enjoy exercising. A 2017 study in medical students found that those who took a weekly group exercise class had significantly lower levels of stress than those who did the same amount of exercise alone.

Thus, all the evidence suggests that socializing benefits both our mental and physical health. But why? The key could be oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter, produced in the hypothalamus. It is involved in childbirth and lactation, but is also associated with empathy, generosity and trust, all of which are key factors in friendships.

A study found that oxytocin was vital for social recognition in rodents, and this effect has also been observed in humans. Another onewhere researchers administered oxytocin to people via a nasal spray, found that it increased confidence and made them more willing to accept social risks.

But why does oxytocin have physical benefits? These are probably due to its effect on cortisol – the stress hormone. Participating in a study who received oxytocin intranasally had lower cortisol levels than those who received a placebo when subjected to the stress of public speaking.

The adrenal glands release cortisol when a person is stressed. It’s good for emergencies because it prepares us for action, but bad when it happens in the long run. Among other things, long-term high cortisol can cause high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and fatigue.

So keeping cortisol levels low is a good idea. This is where socialization comes in. When we are relaxed during positive social interactionsour body releases oxytocin, so cortisol levels drop, and perhaps with them, our blood pressure as well.

“Connection is important, but it’s not just about the numbers – amassing as many friends as possible on your favorite social media platform or in the real world – but the quality of those connections and enjoying the invaluable benefits of meaningful and supportive relationships.”

– Dr. Scott Kaiser

We all value time for ourselves, and some friendships can have a negative influence on our health and well-being, but there’s plenty of evidence that supportive relationships do us good.

So even the loners among us should recognize that getting out and connecting with people can make us happier and healthier, and it might even make us live longer.

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