The Health Benefits of Good Friends: How a Supportive Community can Improve Your Life

Written by Health Writer Gerda Venter

Medically reviewed by Dr. Daniela Steyn


Did you know that having good friends is good for your health? It's true! Studies have shown that people with supportive communities and strong relationships with friends tend to be healthier and happier than those who don't. Many people turn to doctors, self-help books, or herbal supplements in the quest for better health. But they overlook a powerful weapon that could help them fight illness and depression, speed recovery, slow aging and prolong life - their friends.


In August 1992, researchers published the ground-breaking results of a 50-year study based on a close-knit community in Roseto, Pennsylvania. In 1882 a group of Italian immigrants settled in this picturesque town. The study tracked the town's residents from 1935 to 1984. Researchers found that Roseto residents experienced far less stress and heart disease than the average population throughout the study. In a follow-up to the study, researchers concluded that these physical and mental health benefits are due to the spirit of cooperation and community in Roseto.


Countless other studies support a crucial factor of happy living: communities help people thrive. Good friends are good for your physical and emotional health. Friends can help you celebrate good times and provide support during bad times. Friends provide emotional support, social interaction, and a sense of belonging. They also help you reduce stress, improve your mental health, and recover from illness. Friendships encourage healthy behaviours and stronger community connections and even lead to a longer life span! This blog post will discuss the top six health benefits of having good friends:


1. Friends reduce stress levels

One of the most significant health benefits of having good friends is that they reduce stress levels. Scientists are investigating the biological and behavioural factors that account for the health benefits of connecting with others. Chronic stress has been linked to countless health problems. Stress can adversely affect cardiovascular health, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system. But friends can help reduce stress by providing emotional support and social interaction.


When you experience something stressful, if you have a stress response system that's working as it should, the result is an increase in cortisol, our primary stress hormone, which tells your body to release glucose into your bloodstream. This physiological reaction occurs to help you cope with the stressor.


On the other hand, a caring friend triggers the release of stress-reducing hormones, resulting in many health benefits. In one study, researchers found that children who had a negative experience while their best friend was present not only felt better about themselves afterwards but also had lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, than those who did not have a friend present.


Having good friends around, therefore, reduce stress levels. This is likely due to the social support that friends provide. Social support can come in many forms, including offers of help or advice, expressions of affection, and simply being there for the person.



2. Friends improve your mental health

Good friends also improve cognitive health. Loneliness and social isolation are two of the most significant predictors of mental health disorders. People who feel lonely or isolated are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. However, people with strong social networks are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.


In a study published in Health Affairs, researchers found that cohesive communities and long-lasting friendships are linked to better mental health outcomes for adolescents. The research tracked 2264 children from 1998 to 2000. Their social relationships were studied using metrics such as the perceived safety of community members or the number of friends they had on Facebook.


Having friends and family who care about you is beneficial for your physical health. A large study of people ages 75 plus found that those with many satisfying contacts had a lower dementia rate than those who did not. Friends provide a sense of belonging, support when needed, and practical help from across the board - no matter what it takes or how difficult things get in life.


3. Friends help you live longer

People with strong social networks are significantly more likely to live a long, happy life compared to those who don't. A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. Researchers believe they provide emotional support and encourage healthy behaviours, such as exercise and eating well.


They also encourage you to avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits. In a fascinating study, which examined data from more than 309,000 people, researchers found that a lack of meaningful relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.



4. Friends help you recover from illness

When you're sick, it's beneficial to have friends who bring you meals, run errands for you, provide moral support and are concerned about your general well-being. Friends can also help keep you accountable to your treatment plan, which will improve your chances of a successful recovery.


In 2006, a study of nearly 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease compared to women with ten or more friends. Interestingly, the proximity and the amount of contact with a friend didn't make any difference in survival. Just having friends was protective enough.


In many studies, friendship has an even more significant effect on health than a spouse or family member. In the study of nurses with breast cancer, having a spouse wasn't associated with survival. Friendship has a profound psychological effect. People with strong friendships are less likely than others to get colds, perhaps because they have lower stress levels and consequently stronger immune systems.


5. Friends encourage healthy habits

People who have friends living a healthy life are more likely to adopt healthy habits themselves. Friends can also provide a sense of social support, which is essential for people trying to make changes in their lives.


Friends play a significant role in promoting your overall health. Adults with strong social connections have a reduced risk of many health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). This was proven by a study in 2007 that showed an increase of nearly 60 percent in the risk for obesity among people whose friends gained weight.


Social connections not only give us pleasure, but they also influence our long-term health in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking. People who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.



6. Friends help you stay connected

Finally, friends help keep you connected to your community. Strong social networks have been linked with increased civic engagement and a decreased risk of loneliness and social isolation. People who have strong social connections are more likely to attend community events, join a community fitness facility and participate in their community. Friends help you stay connected to your community, boosting your self-worth and self-confidence.


How to be a good friend

So why are friends so important? Because they make us happy! People who have close friendships live longer, healthier lives. Friends provide us with social support, essential for our mental and physical health. They make us laugh and help us feel connected to the world.


But friendship is a two-way street! Evidence suggests that the life-enhancing effects of good friends extend to the giver and the receiver. Friends are a vital part of our lives, and we should do everything we can to maintain meaningful relationships with them.


How do you keep your friendships strong? Here are a few tips:

  • Make time for your friends. Pencil them in on your calendar! Spending time with them is good for your health.

  • Talk to them often. A phone call, text, or even an email will do.

  • Have fun together. Mutual interests are so valuable. It gives you a social connection. Go out to eat, see a movie, or take a walk.

  • Be there for them when they need you. Friends should be there in good and bad times.

  • Give them compliments! Everyone loves to feel appreciated.

  • Be honest with each other. Friends need to be able to trust each other.


In conclusion, let's look at another study. Researchers at the University of Virginia studied 34 students by taking them to the base of a steep hill and fitting them with a weighted backpack. The students were then asked to estimate the steepness of the hill. Some participants stood next to friends during the exercise, while others were alone.


The students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the hill's steepness. And the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared. The emotional health benefits of friends are thus profound! Healthy friendships provide so many benefits. If you want to be healthier and happier, surround yourself with great people!





Reference List:

1. What Are Friends For? A Longer Life - The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/21/health/21well.html

2. Friendships: Enrich your life and improve ... - Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860

3. Socializing Smarts for Your Brain - Dynamic Learning. https://eileenpease.com/socializing-smarts-for-your-brain/

4. Five Ways Your Friends Can Help You to Reduce Stress - Pip. https://thepip.com/en-us/2016/07/five-ways-your-friends-can-help-you-to-reduce-stress/

5. The Health Benefits of Strong Relationships - Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-strong-relationships

6. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/importance-community_b_1316690?msclkid=c2ad9e13aaae11ecafd9eacf9b308687

7. https://skyecanyon.com/uncategorized/engage-explore-and-enjoy-the-benefits-of-close-knit-communities/?msclkid=4e0c98d0aab011ecbd36a21285455b75


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