Recently, I engaged in a three-hour marathon conversation with a dear friend. It’s something we’ve been known to do when we haven’t connected for awhile. We’re both writers who’ve been dealing with some very similar issues surrounding health and family. So we talked. And talked. And talked.
We caught up on each other’s lives and commiserated about difficulties we’d encountered. We served as cheerleaders while lending an ear. We gave each other a much needed kick in the pants on issues we’d been hesitant to tackle.
Shortly after we ended our call (because both our cell phone batteries were threatening to go on strike) she sent me an email entitled “They Teach It at Stanford.” I’m not a fan of emails floating around on the internet and I rarely ever share them. But this one struck home, because I’ve experienced the benefits it discusses, that of having great girlfriends. So while I can’t vouch for the source of the email article, I can with supreme confidence tell you that truth is at its core: Girlfriends are good for your health.
I bookmarked the email because it had a message I felt needed to be shared. Not just with a few friends on my email list, but with women everywhere. A few weeks passed and I’d forgotten about it.
Then this past weekend I traveled to Atlanta to spend some time with six women I’ve known since elementary school, but only recently reconnected with a couple years ago. This was our second annual reunion since that time. Despite the insufferable heat (during which we attended an outdoor concert) we had an amazing weekend filled with fun, laughter, support and encouragement. We packed about as much activity as a group of 40+-year-old women can in a single weekend without an IV and a shot of adrenaline.
When I returned home, practically glowing from the positive energy and joy experienced over the weekend, I needed to write a blog post for All Things Girl. The topic for this post was quite obvious. It was time to share the message of that email. Girlfriends are good for your health.
Before I share the email, the origins of which are uncertain, let’s review some hard, cold, scientific facts surrounding this issue. The Nurses’ Health Study conducted at Harvard Medical School showed that women with a large circle of friends were more likely to live a joyful life and less likely to develop health issues as they aged. The benefits of women friendships were so significant that it led the researchers to conclude that not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight.
The article Friendships: Enrich Your Life and Improve Your Health on the MayoClinic.com tells us, “Good friends are good for your health. Friends can help you celebrate good times and provide support during bad times. Friends prevent loneliness and give you a chance to offer needed companionship, too.” It goes on to share a list of specific benefits derived from good friendships.
The New York Times article, What are Friends For? A Longer Life, relates the following: “A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends.”
On WebMD.com, the article Good Friends are Good for You, gives examples of how a strong social network has a positive impact on the survival rate of patients who have suffered illnesses like ovarian cancer and heart attacks.
The moral of this story? We live stressful, overscheduled lives anchored by career and family. When we’re short on time, the first thing to suffer is usually our female friendships. But this is a big mistake. Spending time with girlfriends isn’t frivolous or a luxury. It is essential for our mental, emotional and physical health.
When is the last time you chatted with your closest girlfriends over a bottle of wine and a slice of tiramisu split six ways? If you can’t remember it’s been far too long. Pick up the phone and call your friend just to let her know you’re thinking of her. Do it now. You’ll both be better for it.
Finally, here is the email that inspired this post. Share it with a girlfriend. Then go out for margaritas and a slice of key lime pie.
They Teach It at Stanford
In an evening class at Stanford University the last lecture was on the mind-body connection – the relationship between stress and disease. The speaker (head of psychiatry at Stanford) said, among other things, that one
of the best things that a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends. At first everyone laughed, but he was serious.
Women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life experiences. Physically this quality “girlfriend time” helps is to create more serotonin – a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well-being. Women share feelings whereas men often form relationships around activities. We share from our souls with our sisters/mothers, and evidently that is very GOOD for our health. He said that spending time with a friend is just as important to our general health as jogging or working out at a gym.
There’s a tendency to think that when we are “exercising” we are doing something good for our bodies, but when we are hanging out with friends, we are wasting our time and should be more productively engaged—not true. In fact, he said that failure to create and maintain quality personal relationships with other humans is as dangerous to our physical health as smoking!
So every time you hang out to schmooze with a gal pal, just pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for doing something good for your health! We are indeed very, very lucky. Sooooo let’s toast to our friendship with our girlfriends. Evidently it’s very good for our health.