Hey Girlfriend – how’s your health?
As a girlfriend, I care about your health and, as a girlfriend, I have an impact on it! Female friendships can lead to better health which is part of our mission here at Girlfriendology – to take care of our girlfriends by promoting the benefits and inspiring ideas on female friendship. Read more about it!
Female friendship can lead to better health
By BARB BERGGOETZ • Gannett Newspapers • October 28, 2008
Having lived in Texas her whole life, Tish Klein knew no one when she moved to Noblesville, Ind., with her husband two years ago. On top of that, she was adapting to being newly married and, later, to having a new baby girl — without her longtime friends and family in Texas.
Then she found StrollerFit, a fitness group for mothers that integrates kids in strollers into regular workouts. Before long, Klein, Erin Bradley, Shannon Mann and others were having “Moms night out,” play dates with kids, cookouts and game nights with their families.
“Ever since I met them and formed a group of friends, it lifted my mood a lot,” says Klein, 30. “It gave me something to look forward to. We talk about kids, marriage, husbands and work, the gamut.”
Friendships profoundly affect the physical and mental health of both women and men, researchers say. Numerous studies have shown that people who report loneliness die earlier, get sick more often and weather transitions with greater physical wear and tear than those who have a support network.
“If you feel isolated, not validated or accepted by others, there seems to be a whole constellation of outcomes — loneliness, alienation, susceptibility to depression — that results,” says Edward R. Hirt, a psychology professor at Indiana University. This doesn’t mean people constantly need the validation of others, Hirt adds, but that they need to know that support is there if they do need it.
Alison Jester can relate to that. Through a shared interest in knitting, she has grown close to quite a few women over the years, first as a young mother and now as a 52-year-old part-time employee at the Broad Ripple Knit Shop. Women gather there and at the Mass Ave Knit Shop for classes or just to chat.
“As a mother with young children, it was a lifesaver,” she says.
Sometimes, family members may be more prone to giving advice or telling you what you don’t want to hear, says Michele C. Thorne, assistant professor of clinical psychology at the IU School of Medicine. That may not be as good for you as a friend who listens and guides you, but supports your decisions.
The most important factor about friendships, Thorne adds, seems to be the perceived satisfaction with those relationships, not the number of them or what friends do together.
Studies by researchers at Ohio State University and Carnegie Mellon University have found that people reporting strong social supports have more robust immune systems and are less likely to get infectious diseases, largely because of reduced stress.
“There’s a long line of work showing that lonely people had poorer immune functions than their less lonely counterparts,” says Janice Kiecolt-Glasier, a professor and member of the Institute of Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University’s College of Medicine.
In a 2006 study done by psychologist Todd Jackson, nearly 400 adults from the Midwest completed a series of questions related to health practices, stress, depression and social support they received from their significant other, family and friends.
“For both women and men, having a highly supportive network of close relationships was associated with reporting a healthier diet, more exercise, less nicotine and alcohol abuse and better adherence to routine medical examinations,” says Jackson, associate professor of psychology at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia.
One reason for the link between social support and good health practices seems to be that people who feel cared for by others are less vulnerable to the effects of stress and are protected against the symptoms of depression, says Jackson.
“As a result, they may be able to devote more time and energy toward self-care,” he says. “Particularly for women, feeling cared for and supported within their close social networks is particularly important in fostering self-care.”
Generally, women benefit most because of how they deal with stress. Women are more social in how they cope with stress, while men are more likely to have a “fight or flight” reaction, says Shelley E. Taylor, author of “The Tending Instinct” and a social neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles.
While aggression and withdrawal take a psychological toll, friendship brings comfort that lessens the ill effects of stress, she says. “That difference contributes to the gender difference in longevity.”
Women tend to have larger, denser social networks, in which more people know each other, while men typically have smaller circles of friends and will rely on their spouse or significant other for more support, several researchers say. But women like Erin Bradley, a StrollerFit “mom,” can easily see the benefits of her friendships and the time they spend together with and without the children.
“I just think it’s made me a happier person,” says Bradley, a speech therapist who works part time.
Actually being healthier is just one of many benefits of girlfriends like lower stress, greater happiness and even feeling more beautiful. In this world of stress, health concerns, economic uncertainty, take care of YOU! Spend some time with your girlfriends. You’ll feel healthier, happier, less stressed, more beautiful and make some wonderful memories that you’ll cherish forever. Life really is better together – with your girlfriends!