Is it true that having a strong social network can keep you healthier? You bet it is!
It stands to reason that having good friends can fill your heart with joy. But did you know that solid social connections can also boost your heart health?
Research shows that strong social ties are good for your health in more ways than one. One review of research involving more than 308,000 people across 148 studies showed that people with strong social relationships were 50% more likely to be alive over the studies’ time periods. In fact, researchers concluded that the effect of a strong social network on mortality was twice as strong as that of exercising and equal to the effects of quitting smoking.
Lots of other research has linked a lack of social interaction to heart health issues. A Swedish study that surveyed nearly 14,000 people found those with the fewest social contacts had a 50% higher risk of having a first-time heart attack. Another study showed that women with suspected coronary artery disease were twice as likely to be alive after two years and had lower rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and abdominal fat if they had high levels of social support. And an American Heart Association study showed heart attack patients with low social support were more likely to have poorer mental health functioning and more depressive symptoms.
Many patients as well as practitioners, overlook the effect of mental health on physical disease. According to the American Heart Association: stress, anxiety, and depression are listed as some of the top risk factors for coronary artery disease, along with smoking, high cholesterol, and obesity! Having a strong social network is a great way to decrease stress and depression by providing support and context for developing and maintaining healthy habits. This is especially important during the holidays when unhealthy choices are more likely to be made, and when mental health issues can get worse.
When choosing a social network, just remember, “birds of a feather flock together”. Meaning, people with similar goals and lifestyles can often be found together. It is important to surround yourself with positive people who will support you and your health goals. Healthy choices are easier to make when you have a trusted friend or family member to encourage you!
So why are friendships so good for your heart?
- Stress: Friends can help relieve stress. This can go a long way towards improving your heart health since chronic stress is a known risk factor for heart disease.
- Lifestyle: You may practice healthier lifestyle habits, like eating healthy, exercising regularly and not smoking, if you have a strong network of friends and family.
- Meaning: Social relationships provide meaning to your life so you may be more likely to take better care of yourself.
But before you run out and gather a large group of friends, keep this in mind. Researchers have shown that the type of friends you have can make a difference. For example, one study showed that friends who talk about their problems excessively can increase each other’s stress levels. Another study found that people’s risk of becoming overweight increased by 57% if a close friend became overweight.
So if you are looking for an enjoyable way to keep your heart healthier, embrace your friendships. Just make sure that the people you hang out with are ones that boost you up and don’t drag you down.
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Date Last Reviewed: September 20, 2019
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD