Why Friendships Could Save Your Life

Could your relationships—or lack thereof—be harming your health? The answer, according to research, is yes.

Consider this: A lack of strong social relationships is associated with a mortality risk similar to smoking. Over the years, studies have linked loneliness with increased blood pressure, poor sleep quality and an increase in the production of the stress hormone cortisol, to name just a few ill effects.

Friendship seems to have the opposite effect—strong relationships can help boost self-esteem, relieve stress, and alleviate depression. In my latest book 20 Years Younger, I highlight a number of studies that show how friendships increase longevity and improve quality of life for seniors. In fact, one found that people ages 70 and older who have an active social life live 22 percent longer than those who don’t.

Here are three ways to take advantage of relationships’ health-boosting potential:

1. Make new friends. This may have been no big deal when you were a kid, but many adults struggle to form new friendships. It helps to try to meet people who share your interests and hobbies. If you’re into photography, take a night class at a local high school. Passionate about a certain cause? Volunteer at a non-profit in that field. If you venture out of your circle a bit and put yourself out there, you should be able to form new friendships fairly easily.

2. Reconnect with old friends. This has gotten much easier thanks to Facebook. Not into social media? Reach out to old friends via email or phone. It’s extremely rewarding to reestablish a bond with someone who has known you since way back when.

3. Let go of toxic relationships. Not all relationships are good for your health. Use this worksheet to figure out which friends, family members or coworkers may be interfering with your best life. The next step: Try to improve the relationship or learn to let go. (For more info on toxic relationships, be sure to check back here in a few weeks. Angela Taylor will have some great advice.)

Which of the three tips above are you willing to try?

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