We lean on friends and family for encouragement when it comes to sticking to healthy routines, but research shows reaching out to your social network is itself a healthy habit. Studies suggest having strong social ties can improve your health in a variety of ways, from helping fight off the flu to lowering your blood pressure.
In case you need more reasons to reconnect with a friend, here are five health benefits of focusing on your relationships:
- Reduced anxiety and depression. If you’ve ever had a long gab fest with a bosom buddy, you don’t need a study to tell you that one of the greatest health benefits of having a good social network is better mental well-being. But we’ve done the legwork anyway and found research that shows strong social ties help prevent various types of psychological distress. A 2010 University of California, Los Angeles study, for example, found that social stress and rejection led to an increase in brain activity associated with depression.
- A stronger immune system. Hanging out with friends doesn’t just lift your mood and lower stress levels; it can also help protect you from the flu. A study from Carnegie Mellon University found students who reported greater feelings of loneliness and smaller social networks had a poorer response to the flu vaccination. Other research has found that social connection affects the same genes that code for immune function and inflammation.
- Better fitness. It’s long been known that having a fitness buddy helps improve your motivation when it comes to working out. If your trip to the gym isn’t just to work out, but also to catch up with friends, you’re more likely to follow through with—and stick to—your fitness plans.
- A healthier heart. It’s not just the human relationships in your life that help keep you healthy. According to the National Institutes of Health, spending time with a four-legged friend can lower your cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and blood pressure. One NIH-funded study found that among people who had experienced heart attacks, those who owned a dog were significantly more likely to be alive a year later than those without a Fido.
- Longer life. A 2010 study found people with stronger social connections have a 50 percent increased likelihood of living longer. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that having good relationships slows the mental and physical decline that comes with aging, and reduces the risk of mortality for a variety of illnesses. And it’s not just receiving emotional encouragement that boosts your health; some research has found that giving support to your friends and family may have even greater health benefits than receiving it.