Why It's Good for Your Health to Be a Good Friend + 5 Tips for Maintaining Friendships

April 24, 2020

Think about the last time you felt stressed out or went through difficult times. Odds are that you turned to a trusted friend. And the reverse is true as well—you’ve likely been there for your friends in their times of need, too. Laughing together, venting, relieving stress … these are all just small parts of why it’s so good for your health to be a good friend! In fact, I’ve personally found that “talk therapy” with a good friend is actually more beneficial to me than talking with a therapist!

So, in honor of these incredibly important relationships in our lives, let’s take a look at how friendship actually supports your health and wellbeing and why it's important to be a good friend! You may be surprised just how beneficial friendships are in helping you stay healthy and strong.


It's Good for Your Health to Be a Good Friend

If you have close friends or a healthy network of friends, you’re probably aware that spending time with them makes you feel better. Interestingly, scientists have discovered that our friends truly can help us stay healthier. Here’s how …

3 Ways Friends Help You Stay Healthy

1. Friendship helps you live longer.

Studies have shown that loneliness can negatively impact your health. But did you know the opposite is true as well?

Believe it or not, your friendships may be the key to living a longer life! A recent study revealed that adults with solid friendships have a 50-percent increase in survival rate. [1] And the explanation behind it is quite fascinating.

Researchers have actually found that friendships can help improve your health by providing a buffer to stressful situations, which have been shown to increase your risk of disease and other health concerns. [2] In fact, giving and receiving social support has been shown to support healthy blood pressure levels, lower inflammation, and even aid in healing wounds! [3]

2. Friendship helps cancer survivors stay strong.

It may not be a big surprise to learn that having a strong social support group helps to improve the health of breast cancer survivors. Researchers concluded that breast cancer survivors have a lower rate of recurrence when surrounded by friends. [4]

In a 2016 study, researchers followed more than 9,000 women who had been diagnosed with all stages of breast cancer for a period of 20 years. The women were asked to provide details about their personal relationships within two years of receiving their cancer diagnoses. [5]

Amazing, the researchers found that the women with the fewest social ties were 43 percent more likely to experience a breast cancer recurrence, 64 percent more likely to die from breast cancer, and had a 69 percent higher mortality rate overall.

This study not only revealed that friends being there for you can literally help you fight cancer but also survive one of the deadliest diseases of our time.

3. Friendship helps keep your brain healthy.

Simply put, your friends are good for your brain. That’s right—studies show a direct correlation between the importance of friendship and brain health.

In fact, a Swedish study of people 75 years old and older found that the risk of dementia is lower for those with healthy social support. [6] Furthermore, a 2017 study revealed that when people aged 50 and over experienced positive social support from children, their risk of dementia reduced by about 30 percent! [7] While this may not be your standard friendship, it’s further proof of how important it is for our health to be a good friend and show kindness and love.


Be a good friend - Dr. Pingel


How to Keep Your Friendship Strong: 5 Tips for Maintaining Friendships

I’m sure you can agree that friendships are a precious part of your life. And just like other important relationships, to be a good friend you have to put effort into maintaining friendships.

Here are just a few key tips that I’ve found to be helpful in keeping my own friendships healthy and vibrant.

1. Spend time together!

This one may sound obvious, but with so much of our time spent on social media, sometimes we forget about the importance of in-person interactions. While looking at your friends’ posts on social media can be fun, it can’t replace ditching your phone for a few hours and spending time together in “real life.”

I know how busy we all get and how easy it can be to get overwhelmed with all of our many obligations. But, no matter what, to be a good friend just spend a few minutes a day (or at least each week) keeping in touch with your close friends.

Even if it’s a quick email, call, or text, that regular interaction makes a difference. Of course, even better is making time to catch up in person. But sometimes distance and just trying to keep up with everything can make that hard—I get it. Nevertheless, tend your friendship like you would tend a garden (or any other relationship!)—give it your focused attention on a regular basis.

Whether you’re catching up over the phone or over coffee, be a good friend by nurturing a healthy friendship, which requires your attention just like any other relationship.

2. Be a good listener.

It’s probably no surprise that if you want to be a good friend, then good communication is critical. Even at times when you have a different point of view, it’s important to just stop and listen. Everyone has a need to be heard. Showing your friend that you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say—whether you agree or not—means a lot to someone.

People feel validated when they know that they are heard, that someone is truly listening. And it’s important to listen in good times and bad. Sometimes that’s all someone needs. Your friend may not need any advice; they may not need you to say anything. They may simply need to know that you’re there and you care enough to listen to what they have to say.

3. Be honest.

Honesty is just as important in a friendship as it is in any relationship. What I mean by that is in order to be a good friend, you need to tell the truth about how you feel. So, what does that mean? It means that if your friend has hurt you or has infringed on your boundaries (see the next point below), let them know.

Confrontation of any kind can be uncomfortable, but it’s so important to communicate your honest feelings in any relationship. Otherwise, resentment can fester. Miscommunication builds on itself. If your friend is not aware that they are hurting you in some way, the behavior will likely continue, and you will feel upset and resentful. Eventually, a lack of honesty in a relationship will erode trust and break down the relationship.

So, all that said, be brave and say what you feel. It can feel uncomfortable to be vulnerable and risk confrontation, but if you are true friends, you will work through it and build an even stronger friendship.

On the other hand, if you have come to a place in the friendship where it’s time to part ways, then it’s important to communicate that as well. It doesn’t mean that either of you is a “bad” friend or person, it just means that you are growing in different directions and it’s time to move on.



4. Communicate clear expectations and boundaries.

Along with honesty, it’s so important to be clear about your expectations and boundaries in your relationships—and friendships are no exception.

Tell your friend how you feel (see above!). If you don’t want to do something, let them know. If your life is crazy and it’s going to be hard for you to find time to hang out or have meaningful conversations for a while, let them know. Even if you just send a text to let them know you’re thinking of them, but you have a lot going on, that helps your friend to understand if they haven’t heard from you.

On the flip side, if you haven’t heard from your friend in a while or if they don’t seem to be communicating with you like they typically do, don’t assume the worst. Reach out and see how they’re doing. Ask them if they’re OK. This way you both know where you stand. If you want to be a good friend, remember it all comes back to communication; don’t expect your friend to read your mind or vice versa!

5. Set up a routine.

This can be as simple as agreeing on a standing lunch or coffee date or checking with each other to set up a time to catch up over a phone call. Having a routine helps to set expectations and boundaries. It also ensures that you’re making time for the friendship. Remember that to be a good friend, it’s important to nurture a friendship just like any other relationship.

Making New Friends in Adulthood

On a side note, I understand that sometimes it can be harder to make new friends as we get older. As adults, we’re easily consumed by work and daily demands on our time and attention.

Oftentimes as adults we stick to our established friend groups from high school or college, or we spend most of our time with family. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it can also open your life to new perspectives and opportunities when you make time to try new things and meet new people. If you’re feeling like you’re in a rut, maybe it’s time to let yourself do something different that lets you interact with a new group of people.

On the other hand, if you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of family or interaction with family and friends, you may find yourself feeling lonely. It may seem difficult to find easy ways to meet new friends. But don’t despair! While it may take time and patience and “putting yourself out there,” it’s worth it.

How? Well, by meeting new people and making new friends, you’re actually opening yourself up to new experiences. And studies have shown that experiencing new things can actually help improve your memory and improve overall brain health! [8]

So, where do you start? Consider trying a new hobby that requires meeting up with others. You could try something related to exercise and sports, like a running club or a yoga class. Or maybe you would prefer something oriented toward more quiet activities, such as book clubs or knitting groups.

Begin to explore options in your community and let yourself try something new.

If you find that your opportunities to get out in the community in person are limited due to location or mobility, consider exploring groups online. For example, maybe there’s an interactive online class you’d like to take. Use your imagination to find options that fit your personality and personal situation.


Key Takeaways

  • Friends can benefit your health in many ways, largely thanks to their ability to buffer stressful situation that would otherwise impact your health.
  • Maintaining friendships requires time and attention. To be a good friend, make sure to nurture your friendships like you would with any other relationship.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new and explore opportunities to establish new friendships.


You might also enjoy: Is Stress Making You Forgetful? The Link Between Chronic Stress and Memory

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