The Health Perks of Pals

Someone to laugh with. A shoulder to cry on. A confidant. Friends are all of these things. Did you know they can help keep your brain healthy too?

Meaningful social relationships in general may help protect us against age-related cognitive decline. Studies show that how much we value friendships, as well as their quality, may influence our health more than any of the other relationships in our lives.

Two studies published recently in the Journal of the International Association for Relationship Research looked at the effect close relationships had on a person’s health throughout life and examined how supportive vs. strained relationships affected health.  

They found that while spouse and parent-child relationships were important for well-being, friendships were especially beneficial for older adults. They also found that strain from friendships “was the only significant predictor of chronic illness over time.”

Why are friends so important to our health?

All good social relationships provide purpose, enhance self-esteem and lower stress levels, which can lead to better health, including protection from age-related thinking and memory impairment. Friends, however, have more power to influence us to engage in healthy behaviors such as a good diet and exercise.  

If friendships are stressful, on the other hand, they can cause stress and possibly exacerbate health problems.

Fostering friendships

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.

One of the great things about friendships is we can continue to make them throughout our lives. A good way to do that is to join sports teams, clubs and volunteer for organizations that interest you.

And don’t forget the friends you already have.Tending to old friendships is just as important. Old friends can provide a fun way to relive great memories. Go ahead, say “yes” to your high school reunion.


Personal Relationships, 24 (2017), 408–422