Making friends could be best thing for your health

August 30, 2008

Over the past decade, a vast amount of research has been done on aging. We have realized that aging is not only decided by the ""cards you are dealt,"" i.e. your genetics. Many effects of aging depend entirely on our behavior. Two-thirds of the aging process is in our hands, while only about one-third is based on hereditary factors.

Leading authors in the field of aging, John W. Rowe and Robert L. Kahn, have isolated three key components of aging successfully:
1. Avoiding disease
2. Maintaining high cognitive and physical function
3. Actively engaging in life. Active engagement actually helps with the first two key components as well.
----- Social support good medicine -----
Making close friends and maintaining your social circle could be the single most important thing you can do for your long-term health. Much research has been conducted to study the correlation between social relationships and aging, and it is clear that good social support directly improves health. Not only is our emotional life improved, but how long we live is directly related to our social integration.
A 1988 ""Science"" magazine article concluded that individuals with a low level of social integration are at a higher mortality risk. The research has not shown how this works, or exactly what number of friends or family you need to receive benefit, but it is clear that you are more likely to live longer if you have more social support.
Having good emotional support is important to our health for reasons that we may not have considered. For example, receiving emotional support actually slows down the progression of chronic disease and helps in recovering from many illnesses.
Emotional support also helps in ways that we would expect, such as lower risk of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress. Social support helps immensely by increasing our perceived quality of life. The more you believe that your life is better, the healthier you become. Social support increases that belief.
----- Benefits of social support ----
Although the exact mechanism by which social support and integration increase health are not known, there are some hypotheses. Social support increases our material resources and services and reduces the amount of stress we perceive. Good social support reduces the occurrence of stress, improves our coping skills, promotes positive health behaviors, increases social bonding and attachment, and gives us stronger self-esteem.
---- A positive social life ---
Of course, it is important not just to have a social life, but to have a positive social life. It is possible that some social interactions actually may harm us by promoting negative health behaviors and conflict. If we actively try to have positive social interactions and maintain the quality of our social networks and interactions, we can directly affect the quality of our health, both in the short term and for the rest of our lives.
Call your friends and reestablish communication with them. Try to maintain your friendships and go out and give support to your friends as well. Self-esteem has been shown to increase when we help others. Good social interaction increases health when you receive help as well as when you give help. We all knew that making friends and keeping friends was important to our well-being. Now we are realizing that it's important also to our health.