Many people accept that a shrinking friend circle is just a part of aging. As we age, people move, people’s interests change and we lose touch. But new research has found that having good friends and good health is even more closely linked than we thought. Maintaining friendships, or making new friends along the way, is essential for your well-being.
In a study, people with positive social lives handled stress better and had better physical health. The study followed 4,000 people for more than three weeks. They did check-ins on their phones or smartwatches about positive and negative interactions with their closest relationships as well as their blood pressure, pulse, level of stress and how they were coping.
People with more positive social experiences had an easier time coping and better health. However, people with volatile and negative social lives did not. Even if they liked their friends, having bad experiences with them impacted their health.
“Both positive and negative experiences in our relationships contribute to our daily stress, coping, and physiology,” said lead study author Brian Don of the Univ. of Auckland. “Additionally, it’s not just how we feel about our relationships overall that matters; the ups and downs are important too.”
Many of us don’t have many close friends as adults. Sometimes the best way to make new friends is to reach out to your old ones. Reconnecting with people can start in small ways. Adam Poswolsky, author of “Friendship in the Age of Loneliness,” recommends starting with a simple text or message.
“If you do just one thing, make a list of five people in your life that you care about, and give one of them a phone call,” Mr. Poswolsky added. “The most remarkable friendships often begin with tiniest moments of connection.”
One of our team members reconnected with a group of her old friends a few years ago. Most of them hadn’t talked in over a decade. At the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone was ordered to stay inside, one woman mentioned on Facebook that she had never watched a scary TV show but was too afraid to do so alone. Others who were fans all agreed to watch it together over Zoom. The show is 26 episodes long. They watched it and, almost three later, still meet over Zoom every Friday to talk about their jobs, children, books they are reading, hobbies and everything else they care about. You can reconnect over the smallest things and then have a support group.
Dr. Don thinks that, for the next step, researchers should look beyond blood pressure and heart rate reactivity to better understand how relationships affect health. “It would be useful to examine other physiological states, such as neuroendocrine or sympathetic nervous system responses as outcomes of daily positive and negative relationship experiences, which may reveal different patterns of associations.”