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3 Ways friendship improves your health — not just your social life

How a strong friendship can improve your well-being

Many of us enjoy connecting with friends for coffee, hanging out after work or getting together on a weekend. It turns out having a group of buddies or a single BFF is more than just a pleasant way to pass the time; it's actually beneficial for your health and well-being.

Researchers have studied friendship and found there are many surprising benefits beyond having someone to go to the movies with or listen to your woes. Here are just a few of the benefits of having friends that might encourage you to pick up the phone, send a text or make plans to reconnect sometime soon.

Friends can keep you healthy

Friends may notice the subtle changes in your health that you will not. A new mole, a change in your voice or your energy level can all be signs of a bigger issue. A friend who will accompany you to a medical visit can provide you with an extra set of ears, which makes it so much easier to remember and understand the advice your medical provider gave you once you leave the office. Friends can encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive alcohol consumption or a lack of exercise.

Even more important, having social connections with friends can boost your body's own immune system by helping you to experience positive feelings and reduce the physical signs of stress. Friends can also help you cope with unexpected events, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one.

Friends can extend your life

In 1989, David Spiegel, MD, a well-known professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, published an important paper in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet. The results were staggering: It showed women with breast cancer who participated in a support group lived nearly twice as long as those who did not. It also showed that the women experienced much less pain.

In another study published in the journal Cancer, women with an advanced form of ovarian cancer showed that the patients with a solid social support system had much lower levels of a protein linked to more aggressive types of cancer. Lower levels of the protein also boosted the effectiveness of their chemotherapy treatment. According to the study, women with minimal social support had levels that were 70 percent higher in general, and two-and-a-half times higher in the area around the tumor.

Friends can help you reach your fitness goals

Whether it is going to the gym, trying to achieve your ideal weight or struggling to follow a healthy diet, the encouragement of a friend can make the progress easier. A friend can become an accountability partner as you begin to make changes to your exercise routine or eating habits. The support of a peer can also increase your willpower and help keep you on track.

Exercise partners provide a powerful combination of support, accountability, motivation and, in some cases, even healthy competition. Working out with a friend can bring out your competitive nature, and is a strong motivation to staying committed to your fitness program. Seeing you and your friend's fitness progressing together can also create a stronger bond between the two of you and increase your sense of accomplishment.

Friends are beneficial for your health. While developing and maintaining good friendships takes effort, the enjoyment and comfort friendship can provide makes the investment worthwhile. Friends can help you celebrate good times and provide support during bad times. Most of all, good friends encourage you to take better care of yourself.

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