Keeping up those friendships you've made over the years might be more important than you think. In addition to the social and personal benefits friendships bring into your life, having close friendships can also benefit your health and even help you live longer. What are all the benefits of having good friendships in your life? Here's a look at some of the proven benefits.
Friendships Your Stress Level
Talking to a good friend about issues in your life instead of carrying the burdens yourself leads to fewer incidents of depression, lower cholesterol levels, and even less chances of developing cancer. People with solid support systems are able to talk out their feelings, work through them, and make better decisions from the council. This helps lower blood pressure, improves cardiac function, and lowers stress hormones in the body that are associated with higher cancer risks and greater risks of developing certain forms of cancer. People with solid friendships also report having a greater overall quality of life than those who go it alone or only have family members in their social circles.
Humans are by nature social beings, according to Tasha R. Howe, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Humboldt State University, who says, "People with social support have fewer cardiovascular problems and immune problems, and lower levels of cortisol -- a stress hormone." This stress hormone is linked to a number of health problems.
Friends Improve Quality of Life
In addition to talking things out and sharing burdens, friendships encourage new experiences that can directly contribute to health and well-being. For example, friends tend to travel, take walks, and try new things. Those without friends encouraging them and hanging out with them often miss out on such things. New experiences and staying active are directly related to lower incidents of developing problems with memory and concentration later in life, such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
The more active you stay mentally and physically, the less chance you have of developing these issues, and friendships directly encourage new experiences and activities. For instance, a friend can call you up on her cell-phone and you two can be headed off on a new trip or adventure within minutes. Those without friends rarely, if ever, take impromptu trips or strike out on new adventures alone.
Friends Can Offer Healthy Encouragement
Friends who care for each other also encourage healthier lifestyles that lead to lower disease rates and health issues. For example, friends can encourage each other to avoid smoking, to cut back on excessive drinking, and to maintain a healthy weight. Since lifestyle choices like these are so important to one's overall health, it's hard to estimate how much a friendship can benefit one's health by supporting their efforts to avoid obesity and to stick with exercise programs that strengthen the heart, lungs, and muscle systems.
Friends Have More Effect on Longevity Than Family
According to the research, friendships have a greater impact on one's length of life than do family relationships, such as siblings and children. Even when people do become sick, having close friends showing support and encouragement can help the patient heal faster and recover more completely. Not all of the benefits are physical nor measurable. Many of the benefits involve a higher level of satisfaction with one's life, fewer feelings of depression, higher levels of self-esteem, and lower rates of self-destructive behaviors.
Having friends can also help you find new friends and develop an even larger circle of supportive, caring people in your life. Friends meet new friends through each other's social circles, and those with well established friendships tend to develop new friendships more easily, because they have honed the social skills necessary to make and foster successful relationships.
People who lack friendships or only have close relationships within their own families have higher incidences of mental illness, depression, and other behavioral or social disorders. Though developing and keeping long-term friendships may not prevent mental illness, it does lead to a greater likelihood that problems will be noticed and addressed before it seriously hinders the person's ability to develop close relationships.