‘Here’s to good friends…’

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. 

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

Does anybody else recognize those words in the title as being on an old television commercial for Lowenbrau?  Okay, maybe I’m dating myself, but that’s okay.  The message being conveyed on that commercial was less about sharing an alcoholic beverage with friends and more about simply sharing time with good friends.

As much as I have often extolled the virtues of having a friend who is loyal enough to be a dedicated workout partner, research has shown that spending quality social time with peers is also vital to one’s overall well-being.  According to the results garnered from an Australian study, conducted by the Centre for Ageing Studies at Flinders University, senior adults who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22 percent. 

To what might we attribute this significant discrepancy in survival?  Some scientists feel that companionship provided by friends may help to ward off depression, boost self-esteem, and provide support. In addition, a study reported in the journal Cancer, which followed 61 women with advanced ovarian cancer, discovered that those with ample social support had much lower levels of a protein called Interleukin-6, which is linked to more aggressive types of cancer. Women with weak social support had levels of IL-6 that were 70 percent higher in general, reaching as much as 250 percent higher in the area around the tumor.

Tasha R. Howe, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at Humboldt State University has developed a theory to help explain this phenomenon.  Her premise maintains that humans are social animals, and as such, have evolved to be in groups, essentially needing others for survival. Therefore, she explains, those individuals with positive social connections feel more relaxed, less stressed, and at peace, which can be correlated with better health.

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The Mayo Clinic has identified the following benefits believed to be associated with a strong peer network:

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease

All of this evidence seems to add up to the value of making time for the true friends in your lives, those unique and valued individuals who bring out the best in you and help you overcome any adversities you may be facing.  Never be afraid to count on a friend for emotional support; chances are, you’ll not only feel better, but you will be inclined, when called upon, to willingly return the favor.

Barbra Streisand’s lyrics “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world” certainly seems to ring true; and now, perhaps, they can also be the healthiest!