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As important as family is to many of us, friends are of equal caliber. Your family is there from the beginning, whereas friends enter our lives later and in certain cases, quickly become our second family – and for a good cause. Studies have shown that having your best pals around you can actually improve your health in a number of ways.

Studies have shown having friends around you during an unpleasant experience reduces stress. About 103 children were studied, from the ages of 10-12, and those who had a good friend during negative experiences as opposed to a parent, sibling, or teacher, had lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Another study has also found that “bromances,” or close friendships between males, actually help reduce stress when experiencing rough situations. Elizabeth Kirby, of the Department of Integrative Biology at UC-Berkeley, put rats in the same cage and subjected them to a stressor for three hours. Compared to the rats who weren’t given a stressor, the stressor-subjected rats actually bonded with each other instead of being aggressive. They also showed higher levels of oxytocin, the love hormone. Thus, having a good friend around you may help in getting through a stressful situation.

 Friends are important for both social interaction and our good health.

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A further study revealed that women who had regular interaction with many of their friends were more likely to have a healthy level of  blood pressure when compared to less social women. Another study showed that among women with coronary artery disease, those with more friends were 50% less likely to die from the disease than those with fewer friends.

Friends also have the possibility of lowering your risk for dementia. Dementia is a rising disease in the United States, expected to rise about 34% by 2025 compared to the present. However, having a varied social network may help prevent it. A study found that women with friendships over four years old had about 26% less risk of developing dementia in comparison to those with smaller interactions with friends. For these women, spending time with friends and family daily, cut their risk in half.

As having friends is beneficial in so many areas of our lives, it’s a small wonder that they might also increase our lifespan. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist, and her colleagues at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, studied about 148 people from a sample of over 300,000 and followed them for about seven-and-a-half years. They concluded that individuals with strong social networks had a 50% greater chance of survival than those less social counterparts. Furthermore, social isolation proved to be as bad for the health as smoking, alcoholism, and twice as bad for obesity.

So, there you have it. Friends can have a huge impact on our lives, not only socially, but also physically. Who would have thought that friends were as good for social fun as well as physical health?

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