New Year’s Resolution: Cultivate Your Friendships For Better Health

What if I told you the best diet you could go on for your health had nothing to do with food or exercise, but everything to do with friendship ?

Most of us resolve to get healthy in the new year. We consider starting with a cleanse, giving up alcohol or joining the gym. While these are all worthy pursuits, there may be an even more effective—not to mention enjoyable!—step that we can take to improve both our short- and long-term health. It’s simple: Spend time with friends.

Whether a close neighbor that you see regularly or a long-distance pal that you email, text and call, strong social ties can enhance your physical and emotional wellbeing in a variety of ways. In fact, research shows that it may even add years to your life. One large-scale study found that people with strong social connections have a 50% greater likelihood of survival than those who are socially isolated. That makes good friendships as beneficial to your health as quitting smoking, losing weight and exercising regularly.

National Geographic fellow and author Dan Buettner, who has studied the people of Okinawa, Japan, where the average life expectancy for women is 90, agrees: “The most powerful thing you can do to add healthy years is to curate your immediate social network.”

Friendships can have a huge impact on mental health and happiness. Good friends relieve stress, provide comfort and joy, and prevent loneliness and isolation, and can even boost our immune system. According to a 2010 report in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, “Strong social ties decrease the risk of contracting certain chronic illnesses and increase the ability to deal with chronic pain.”

5 Benefits of Positive Social Ties
  • Lower stress
  • Less loneliness and depression
  • Stronger immune system
  • Promotes physical activity and other healthy habits
  • Keeps your mind sharp

QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

Having a ton of friends isn’t necessary to reap the mental and physical benefits. Sure, superficial interactions with casual acquaintances can make you feel good, lift your spirits or inspire you. But If all your relationships are distant lack depth, it can lead to feelings of insecurity and loneliness.

If you want to thrive in life, you need deep meaningful relationships. I’m talking about people who know you inside and out, who accept you for who you really are, and who will be there for you when you really need it.

Let’s start the new year by being grateful for what we have. Family and friends are one of the most important relationships we have, and it is easy to take them for granted.

Back in the primal days, we needed community to survive. Fast forward to this millennia, and we can get our most basic needs met without ever knowing who prepared our meal, where the food came from or who grew it. We can order food online and never have to engage with a human.

Our community was essential and now it is optional. There is an increasing number of people that work from home, then binge-watch TV or are stuck with an addiction to their electronic device, making it too easy to unintentionally be alone.

There is a downstream effect on your life if you don’t prioritize your friendships. You may become dissatisfied with your work, your spouse and your life. But what you really are lacking is someone to tell what is or is not working in your life right now. You cannot have all of your needs met from your spouse, it is very important to make time for your tribe.

According to relationship therapist Esther Perel, “Men have difficulty asking if men want to hangout.” Push past this so you can stay healthy. Have you heard of the Roseto effect? It is a phenomena by which a close-knit community experiences a reduced rate of heart disease. Named for Italian immigrants that kept in their close=knit community when they moved to America despite their diets, experienced a low rate of myocardial infarction.

Here are three tips on how to be a good friend:

MAKE A DATE
Make time for your friends by making a friend date. I had a college roommate who had more friends than anyone I knew. He would get home from school and call two or three friends and ask them to go on a bike ride, play soccer or meet at the local pub. Then, while he was doing his homework, he would receive all of these calls back and they would make arrangements to meet. He would ask us, his roommates, to join in. I learned a lot from him. He was popular because he always made an effort. If you reach out to your friends, they will reach back to you. Show your gratitude for your friends by telling them how important your friendship is to you.

LISTEN ACTIVELY
Listen closely to your friends and make eye contact. Make sure the focus of the conversation is on them. Don’t shift the focus back on yourself. Don’t be tempted to tell them what you think they should do, just listen and ask the question, “What do you think you should do about this?” Just having a friend listen affects your nervous system, telling you that you are not alone.

GIVE HUGS

Give them a hug. Look them in the eye and touch them on the shoulder. A great way to start the New Year is to tell your friends “Thank you for being my friend! You are important to me.” It will make you both feel great and add years to your life!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Health Coach Jody Moss is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Medicine and a student at Nutritional Therapy Institute.