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Categories > Mental and Emotional Health > Relationships

That’s what friends are for

You already know the basics of staying healthy: Eat right, exercise and see your doctor regularly. But you may want to add “enjoy a night out with the girls” to your wellness prescription. Spending time with your friends offers more than companionship: It can help your health.

Studies show that people with strong friendships tend to have improved mental and emotional well-being, recover from illness better and are more able to resist health conditions like dementia and heart disease. The key mechanism seems to be stress reduction. Too much stress takes a toll on your health by keeping your heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol and adrenaline levels elevated, which suppresses your immune system. Friendships, however, offer a system of social support that acts as a buffer against stress.

What’s more, commiserating about the challenges of raising kids and managing your job can help you feel less alone and improve your outlook. And really good friends will encourage you to change unhealthy habits like smoking or excessive drinking or urge you to see a doctor to prevent a health problem from escalating.

Like all relationships, friendships need tending. Busy lives, chores, work and family often push friendships to the back seat. If you’ve ever sat down with calendars out, you know how difficult it can be to schedule a get-together with busy women. Try some of these ways to stay in touch:

  • Arrange a standing appointment. Make it part of your routine to meet for lunch, coffee, a cosmopolitan or early-morning breakfast. The “Desperate Housewives” ladies of Wisteria Lane may be on to something with their poker nights. Establish a monthly potluck dinner, book club or card game.
  • Work out together. Join a gym, learn Pilates or play tennis with a pal. Meet at the park for a walk or jog.
  • Start a playgroup. Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from these gatherings. Just think how great the group will be when they all start kindergarten.
  • Take a trip. Plan a weekend getaway together. See an exciting city, enjoy a spa, take a trip to the shore or embark on a cruise.
  • Try technology. Keep in touch via e-mail or get a hands-free headset for your home phone so you can chat as you go about daily chores. Talk on your cell phone while on your daily walk.

While blood may be thicker than water, when it comes to your health, your friends may be the ones who can help you have a healthy, long life.