“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives,” writes author George R.R. Martin in his groundbreaking fantasy novel, A Game of Thrones. And while his book is fantasy, that line rings true for health professionals who have long studied the intricate, and incredible, ways that our friendships and community impact our immune system, our minds, and our wellness. When it comes to the people around us and the value of friendships, the latest medical studies show that we’re truly healthier together.
What Do We Mean By “Community”?
Not all relationships are created equal.
And not everyone defines friendship and a healthy sense of community the same way.
Before we launch into our discussion on community, friendship and how we are all (individually and socially) healthier together, we should first ensure we’re each on the same page.
“The quality of our relationships matters,” reports Harvard Medical School.
To experience the health benefits of relationships (which we’ll explore further in this article), those relationships must be healthy.
Researchers tend to define a healthy relationship or a healthy sense of community as one where you:
- Feel supported throughout life’s difficulties.
- Are able to identify someone to talk to if you’re facing a crisis.
- Get a sense of encouragement and support when pursuing life’s goals.
- Feel motivated to be your best, most authentic self.
- Feel safe and grounded, rooted in a sense of belonging and a sense of place.
In other words, just because you’re in a busy crowd, or are surrounded by casual acquaintances, doesn’t mean you’re reaping the benefits we’re about to discuss.
“For example, one study found that midlife women who were in highly satisfying marriages and marital-type relationships had a lower risk for cardiovascular disease compared with those in less satisfying marriages,” explains Harvard. “Other studies have linked disappointing or negative interactions with family and friends with poorer health. One intriguing line of research has found signs of reduced immunity in couples during especially hostile marital spats.”
Healthier Together: What the Science Says About Our Friendships and Our Health
1. A Healthy Community Means Healthy Aging
Having quality friends literally helps you to live longer, notes Harvard.
The university warns that “a lack of strong relationships” has the same effects as smoking 15 cigarettes daily, and is worse for you than being obese.
“[A lack of friends increases] the risk of premature death from all causes by 50%,” it reports.
Meanwhile, a meta-analysis of numerous research studies found that having great friends was twice as beneficial for your aging and longevity as regular physical exercise.
2. Friends Reduce Stress
You already know that your mood lightens when you’re hanging out with a close girlfriend, or calling up a college best friend, or catching the game with a buddy. But it goes deeper than that. Simply knowing you have that support can act as a buffer against life’s many stressful problems and crises.
A 2018 review of the data of thousands of Italians found that people who have strong friendships are not only able to cope with stress faster and more efficiently, but they also react to challenges or obstacles in a less stressful manner.
In other words, friendships and a sense of community manages and PREVENTS stress.
3. A Supportive Community Supports Healthy Habits
“[Friendships] encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise,” reports the Mayo Clinic, which goes on to say that “adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI).”
This may be because a supportive community helps to encourage you in your pursuits of positive personal development. Friends can hold you accountable to healthy goals and can motivate you to create positive changes.
Their own actions and mindset can even influence you towards positive outcomes.
For example, studies have found that if someone is positive and happy, the odds that their friends become happy and positive go up by 25 percent. The same is true for healthy habits like exercise, eating nutritious meals, etc.
We rub off on each other and our healthy choices, just like positivity, are contagious!
4. It Strengthens Your Immunity
People who have strong social connections tend to have healthier, stronger immune systems. That may be because loneliness and social isolation are linked with stress and higher levels of chronic inflammation, which in turn can weaken the immune system.
This shows how community and friendships play a valuable role in your efforts to avoid sickness and support your natural immunity, along with diet, nutrition and supplements.
If a healthier immune system is one of your goals for investing in your community and in your social connections, you may also want to support your immune system with thymic proteins. These proteins help your immune system respond to threats. BioProPlus-500 includes five bioidentical thymic proteins to support your immunity and also includes the micronutrient zinc that works toward full-body wellness.
Healthier Together: How to Plug Into These Amazing Social Benefits
As we get older, it can be harder to make new friends. Here are some practical, simple ways to get started:
- Reach out. We often feel nervous about talking to strangers or rekindling a connection with an old acquaintance, but remember: Everyone wants more friends. The other person will likely be happy you reached out. Sometimes, you need to make the first move.
- Find like-minded people through your interests and hobbies. Join a community group, such as a book club or knitting circle or hiking group. It’s easier to create connections with those who share similar interests and view points.
- Stay in touch. Sometimes, a stronger sense of community is simply about investing in what you already have. From a quick text to a thoughtful, handwritten letter, find ways to stay engaged with those already in your life.
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