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Healthy friendships: Good for the soul and your health

Healthy friendships: Good for the soul and your health

When you have a bad day at work, is your best friend the first person you want to call? As it turns out, having healthy friendships not only improves your mood but gives your health a boost.

Whether you’re an extrovert who thrives on social interactions or an introvert who prefers smaller gatherings, having good friends benefits your physical, mental, cognitive and emotional health and helps you age in a healthy way.

It’s important to note that not all friendships fit the bill. To reap the benefits of friendship, the relationships you have need to be healthy ones. Keep reading as our University Medical Center New Orleans team shares some insight below.

How healthy friendships benefit your health

You know that spending time with friends can help you feel good, but that time invested with others can also benefit you in other ways. For one, healthy friendships help you avoid the potential health risks associated with loneliness and social isolation.

Research in the last few years has shown that loneliness in some cases may be as harmful to your health as smoking, especially for older adults. The numbers are startling: Being socially isolated is associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia, a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Loneliness is also associated with a higher risk of anxiety and depression.

Staying socially connected through healthy friendships may lower your risk of many different health issues. In fact, people who have close friends may be less likely to die of all causes, according to a 2023 study.

You may wonder how friendship positively impacts your health and well-being so significantly. Researchers aren’t entirely certain, but it appears that having close friends provides a protective effect—the health version of bubble wrap protecting your health and your body.

Good friendships also help protect you from the harmful effects of stress. Also, people with healthy friendships may be more likely to remain physically active, which can help them maintain a healthier weight and healthy levels of blood pressure and cholesterol.

What a healthy friendship looks like

To experience the positive effects associated with friendship, your friendships need to be healthy. That means having a relationship that’s built on a firm foundation, where both friends give support and encouragement to each other.

Healthy friendships have many different qualities, and your friendship may look different than someone else’s. In fact, each friendship you have is likely to be a little unique from the other friendships.

That said, healthy friendships all have a few things in common: honesty, responsibility and kindness. Having those three qualities is a good starting point for building a friendship that’s supportive and sustainable.

Along with those qualities, there are other attributes of a healthy friendship. Being a good listener is a must for both people in a friendship. It’s important to listen to truly hear your friend, not simply to answer.

While you want to be honest in a friendship, it’s also important to carefully skirt the line between honesty and judgment. Healthy friendships provide those involved with a judgment-free zone, where they can truly be themselves.

As in any relationship, no friendship will be perfect. Because we are all human, we will mess up on occasion. Learning the art of saying “I’m sorry” may be one of the biggest parts of building a healthy friendship.

Whether you’re part of a years-long friendship or striking up a new friendship with someone you recently met, these basics will help you build a relationship that can last the test of time.

Be a good friend to your health by getting regular checkups. Schedule a primary care appointment today to get a good look at your health.