Are Friendships Good from your Health? A Call for Friendships as Preventative Medicine

Are Friendships Good from your Health? A Call for Friendships as Preventative Medicine

Pictures from a friends weekend at The Greenbrier

Now that I have a more normal schedule I’ve been making sure to spend more time with friends. There is not a lot of healthy eating or gym time when I make time for these events, but I have to say that I feel so much better. But is having friends just as beneficial as those other health habits?

It’s so easy for me to get into a “health rabbit hole” and only prioritize time for grocery shopping, meal prep, exercising, sleeping and not investing in supportive friendships. When I have to cut things out of my life, normally friendships are the thing to go, because I always thought there wasn’t a direct benefit to friendships like there is with a healthy diet. I always saw events that never made sense to me like “yoga and wine night” or “5k at ___ Pizzaria with a pint of beer.” I always thought these events were just so unhealthy, but I was so wrong!….kinda. I started digging into scientific research about the health benefits of friendship and here is what I found:

  1. In a 2002 study, Men without strong social ties were more likely to DIE within 10 years, no matter their health status or their job

  2. In a 2009 study, participants with the fewest social ties were more likely to suffer from heart disease, anxiety, and depression

  3. In a Swedish study with 13,600 participants, those that had few or no friends increased their risk of heart attack by 50%

Isn’t that crazy?? I’m always skeptical about studies like these that don’t suggest the reason behind the relationship or the reason these health benefits happen. So I did more digging….

Studies suggest that friendships can improve your physical health by decreasing the stress response that leads to inflammation and eventually a heart attack. So think about when you’re going through a stressful time and you have people in your life that really care about you and support you through this time. These friends could actually decrease your chance for a heart attack! Supportive friends can also improve your mental health which can decrease your need to take part in negative coping mechanisms (like drugs, alcohol, unhealthy eating, etc). Also, having healthy and positive friends can share healthy tips or even encourage you to be more healthy, as opposed to just being by yourself.

However, all of this can be negative too. Research suggests that having friends that are unsupportive or cause stress can have a negative effect on your health. And friends with unhealthy habits can rub off on you, so watch out for what you’re influenced by! Make sure the people you choose to spend your time with are healthy and uplift your spirits.

Some researchers are calling for public policy to view healthy friendships as “preventative medicine.” I think this is a great idea because so often the health benefit of friendships is over looked, at least by type A personalities like me. Skipping on a gym session to be social or going to eat pizza with friends should actually be thought of as just as healthy (if not more) as eating a healthy meal for 1 (all alone in your dark apartment). Wouldn’t it be awesome if people viewed an instagram picture of a bunch of friends hanging out as just as healthy as a person with a 6 pack drinking a green smoothie?? I personally will try to set aside more time for time for friendships, just like I would try to prioritize any other healthy habit and you should too!