With so much of an emphasis placed on romantic relationships and/or being a parent, sometimes we forget about how important friendships actually are. For many people, friends are family — our chosen family, that is — and our primary support network. Now, thanks to new research from the Women’s Health Initiative, we know that for women in particular, having friends is good for our heart — literally.
Specifically, the study, which was published in the journal Menopause, found that for postmenopausal women, strong friendships and social support may reduce their risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Over the course of 11 years of follow-up with participants, researchers found that for the women who didn’t have cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the project, perceived social support is associated with a slightly lower risk of heart-related death. They didn’t see the same correlation among women who had a history of heart disease.
Those behind the study noted that this association is modest, but significant. They hypothesized that these results show that friendship and social support are beneficial in either promoting stress relief or helping to buffer stressful life events. According to the American Heart Association, stress may affect behaviors and factors that increase your risk of heart disease, so anything that can help decrease stress — in this case, friendship and support — can be beneficial.
“This study found a small but significant association between perceived social support and mortality in women without prior cardiovascular disease,” Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, North American Menopause Society executive director said in a statement. “If psychological or social support can help prevent heart disease in women, we need further studies to determine what support would be most helpful.”
Of course, further clarification and investigation on this topic are necessary. But it’s pretty safe to say that having friends and a support network is definitely a good thing.