Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.
Tara Parker-Pope wrote a great article on the healthcare blog of The New York Times about the often overlooked value of friendship on health.
“Researchers are only now starting to pay attention to the importance of friendship and social networks in overall health. 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.”
Tara also discusses a new book, “The Girls From Ames: A Story of Women and a 40-Year Friendship”, where Jeffrey Zaslow tells the story of 11 childhood friends who scattered from Iowa to eight different states but still kept their friendships firm over 40 years. Two of the woman developed breast cancer. One of these woman reported feeling more comfortable discussing her illness with her girlfriends than her doctor.
It does make sense when I think about that — after all, don’t we all choose as our friends people with whom we can talk about anything? Does this mean that the early morning coffee I have every Friday with five of my friends counts as a health benefit? Is it as good as working out?
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 as women with 10 or more friends. The proximity and the amount of contact with a friend weren’t associated with survival, but in fact just having friends was protective for these women. For men, there appear to be benefits too. According to a study of 736 Swedish men, having a partner didn’t affect the risk of a heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease, but having friendships did.
“In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn’t terribly well appreciated,” said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. “There is just scads of stuff on families and marriage, but very little on friendship. It baffles me. Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.”
Given how important friendship is to health care, how does this work when someone is really sick? How does having a rare disorder impact friendships?
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(Image courtesy of Gwennypics via Flickr)