If you needed another reason to convince your friend to spend the night at your place or join you for brunch next weekend, then listen up. Friends actually make your life better—and healthier. Science says so. On the surface, true friends are there to make you laugh, support you when you’re feeling down or motivate you to be your best self. But underneath all that, friendships are actually adding years to your life—in more ways than one.
Here are three important ways that friendship affects your overall health in terms of aging, exercise and mental health.
Friendship and aging
Sure, you may have forgotten your friend’s favorite cake flavor. Or mailing address. Or, dare we say, half birthday. However, a study by Ohio State researchers found that those who socialize more have better memories. In the study, a group of older, post-retirement mice were guided through a maze. The mice with more social ties were able to remember the maze and escape quicker than the isolated mice.
The research was later supported in a study by Northwestern University in 2017. Here, they found that aging adults—80 years and older—who have strong, trusting friendships have a slower decline in memory and cognitive thinking. “If there is a list of healthy choices one can make, such as eating a certain diet and not smoking, maintaining strong social networks may be an important one on that list,” said senior author Emily Rogalski, associate professor at Northwestern’s CNADC.
Friendship and exercise
There are two types of people in this world: those who like to exercise with their closest friends and those who don’t. And if you skew towards the latter, you miiiiight want to rethink (no pressure). A 2011 study by the University of Bristol found that boys and girls who play or exercise with friends in their neighborhoods have higher levels of physical activity as they age.
But here’s where things get *dramatic*. According to a 2016 study by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, socializing is equally as important as diet and exercise. Gulp. In short, the more social you are at an early age, the better your health will be at the end of your life. More specifically, people with active—and strong—social lives reported having less obesity, inflammation and high blood pressure, which in turn results in a decreased risk for heart disease, stroke and cancer. See? Your post-work cocktails with your besties pay off. BIG. TIME.
Friendship and mental health
Humans have a need for comfort and belonging and true friends do just that. While mental health is a complex issue, there are some studies that prove authentic, healthy friendships have positive effects on one’s mental health. (Note: The studies, however, do not claim that friendship cures mental health conditions in any way.)
Most notably, a study by the University of Michigan found that the emotional connection between friends increases one’s progesterone, a sex hormone that regulates mood and reduces anxiety and stress. But other research states that a number of hormones—more than just progesterone—increase when people are bonding or helping each other out (a.k.a. being friends).