Social Wellness

A true friend freely, advises justly, assists readily, adventures boldly, takes all patiently, defends courageously, and continues a friend unchangeably. William Penn

Research shows that 98 percent of Americans report having at least one close friend with an average number of friends being nine.

Friendships are about fun, support and comradeship however they are also important to our emotional and physical health.

According to Yang Claire Yang, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who studies the physiological effects of social ties, "One's social life matters above and beyond what we already know about the "quick fixes" of health.

Study after study on friendship have shown many of its health benefits.

Friends can extend your life. A recent study of 300,000 participants showed people with strong social relationships actually increase their odds of survival by 50 percent. That is similar to physical activity and quitting smoking.

Yang says “that friendships and health are linked through the body's processing of stress. In the short term, stress is a good thing. If you're being chased by a lion, you want your body to respond with heightened alertness, a pounding heart and a flood of get-up-and-go hormones like norepinephrine. Likewise, if you've got a virus, you want your immune system to kick into gear and attack the intruder with specialized cells and inflammation.

But the chronic stress that can come with isolation can switch on these processes for long periods of time, causing physical wear and tear on the body.” The study compared biological statistics of participants who reported isolation with those who reported having lots of friends across their life span. Four studies of thousands of people age 12 to 91 we compared with "biomarkers such as blood pressure, body mass index, waist circumference and levels of the inflammation marker C-reactive protein. We were able to see the change in biomarkers over time as a result of their earlier exposure to social connections, how many friends [they] have, how often [they're] talking to other people," Yang said.

Reporting their work in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (January 2015) They discovered that “these measures of health were worse in people who also had weaker social ties, For example, among the people in the study who were in old age, a lack of social connections more than doubled the risk of high blood pressure (raising it by 124 percent). For comparison, having diabetes raised the risk of high blood pressure by much less (70 percent).”

It is still unsure if the lack friendships and other social outlets are the cause of poor health, or if poor health causes lack of social interaction. The advantage of this study is that Yang and her colleagues' had data that spanned years, Yang said.

Friendships can also keep your mind sharp. In a 2012 study following 2,000 residents of the Netherlands ages 65 or older (without dementia) for a three year period found that senior citizens dementia risk increased with their feelings of loneliness. Approximately 13.4 percent of those who said they felt lonely at the start of the study developed dementia during the study period, compared with 5.7 percent who didn't feel lonely.

"The fact that 'feeling lonely' rather than 'being alone' was associated with dementia onset suggests that it is not the objective situation, but rather the perceived absence of social attachments that increases the risk of cognitive decline," the researchers wrote in their findings, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

Having friends who make you feel like you belong may be a key for better physical health.

There is little doubt that good friends are good for your health.

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*The health, wellness and beauty information on Live Healthy-Be Beautiful is intended only as informational material and not to be taken as individual medical advice. Always contact your doctor before starting any new health or exercise plan.

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