Catherine Anaya

Friends are good for your health

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It’s that time of year. Kids are back in school. The community event season is gearing up and Thanksgiving is a lot closer than we’d like to admit. We can get so bogged down with the responsibilities of life that it’s easy to forget to nurture the friendships we have in our lives. I’m certainly guilty of this.

But here’s an incentive to kick your friendship gear into high speed: it’s good for your health. Really, there’s a “science” of friendship.

Research shows close friendships – the kind where you share your deepest, darkest secrets, hopes and even doubts about yourself – are not only therapeutic, they can also improve your health.

Really! In a recent article I read, it stated that growing scientific evidence indicates that friendships and a variety of social networks can lower blood pressure, cut the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and even stave off depression.

Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly thinking about my health when I recently took a “girls getaway” to Napa Valley. Picture it: five women unleashed in wine country, one hotel room with one bathroom. It certainly had all the makings of disaster. But honestly, it was an even smoother finish than some of the fabulous Pinot Noir we savored. It was a fantastic weekend of bonding, laughing, crying, singing and dancing over some of California’s finest wine. Three of us work together; even sit within feet of each other. But we get so busy at the office we actually end up conversing through the computer! This was a magnificent way to connect in person away from the hustle and bustle of television news.

And if it seems women are better at developing “deeper” friendships than men, experts say they have a reason for that, too. Blame it on the hormones!

That same article pointed to research from UCLA showing that when women get stressed out, the intense pressure can trigger the release of oxytocin, a calming hormone that compels us to reach out for companionship. Friendships can actually help us relieve stress, which leads to better health.

Here’s the caveat though: Studies show that most friendships have a shelf-life of seven years, so your BFFs today may only be your BF for just the next seven years.

I got a little bummed when I read that. The last thing anyone wants to invest in is a superficial friendship, right? But when I started thinking back to my own friendships now compared to seven years ago, it pretty much supported the theory. I’ve discovered in talking to other women about this that it might really have more to do with our constant need to evolve as people. The older we get, it seems we’re constantly looking for ways to improve our lives and expand our minds. Think about it. When our interests change, we tend to gravitate to people who share those interests, so our circle of friends gets wider and wider.

It reminds me of a couple of quotes: “Friends are like stars. You don’t have to see them to know they’re there.”

The other quote I heard from a friend, who passed away last year at much too young an age. “Friends are the family you get to choose. So choose wisely.”

So here’s to reigniting old friendships, making new ones and remembering that a strong friendship does a body good!

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