Preventive Health

The Health Value of Friendships

August 24, 2012

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A recent study showed that people in their 40s with a wide circle of friends have a greater sense of well-being than those without close friendships.

(As a side note, the researchers behind this study are calling these ages “mid-life” which, PS, people: I staunchly refuse to do. Hovering, as I am, close to 40 I will probably never consider myself middle-aged. Never. But I digress…)

They found that the more frequently people met up with their friends, the greater the benefit. Meaning: virtual/facebook “friends” don’t really count, here. But numbers do count: a wider circle of friends translated to better reported well-being in this study.

Now, I gotta say, I’m not hugely surprised at the finding that friendships are beneficial to mental health. However, one interesting outcome of this study was that, for women, it wasn’t as beneficial to have a wide network of family members as it was to have friends. For men, in contrast, it was a good thing to have plenty of close relatives around, in addition to friends.

One theory? In a family network, women traditionally play an obligatory caregiving/nurturing role. Which is, let’s face it, not as restful as it could be. In contrast, friends tend to be more supportive of a woman’s own choices. And won’t depend on her, say, to make them a sandwich.

Reminds me of the issues surrounding women’s choices for comfort food. Comfort food choices for men tend to be meal-ish, like pasta and steak (the sort of stuff some wonderful mother-type figure has lovingly prepared for them) while women reach for snacky things like ice cream and chocolate (stuff they can grab quickly, without having to turn on the oven and, more importantly, wash casserole dishes afterwards).

Which, really, ties in to the whole idea that being a caregiver, a parent, a nurturer is hard. Damn. Work. (Incidentally, read here for my thoughts on how to be a Healthy Mommy).

But back to the health value of friendships. It’s difficult, in our busy lives, to squeeze in time for friends. It usually takes me several attempts, and back-and-forth text messages, for me to book a date with one of my girlfriends. But it is always worth it. And now I have extra validation (and so do you!) that nurturing these friendships is an investment in my mental health.

In middle age.

Should I ever reach that.

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