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February 12, 2016

Friends are Good for Your Heart

February is heart health month. Many of us know the value of physical fitness and nutritious eating habits for the heart, but did you know that friendships are good for your heart too?

Several studies show the positive effects that friendships have on our hearts. For example, a three-year Swedish study of almost 14,000 men and women showed that people with few or no close friends had a 50% higher risk of a first-time heart attack than people with a close social network.

So, what’s behind the positive heart health effects of friendships? According to a 2009 Journal of the National Medical Association report, stress-reduction is one of the main benefits these relationships provide. Stress contributes to heart disease, and it creates inflammation that can lead to clogged arteries. Friends help reduce stress by encouraging healthy reactions to it. For example, having friends around for support during stressful situations can help people keep their heart rates and blood pressure more steady.

A 2008 report in Current Opinion in Psychiatry also shows that people with many friendships are also more likely to engage in heart-healthy habits such as eating fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly. They are also more likely to quit smoking successfully.

Since your friends are good for your heart, make a special effort to spend some time with them this month, especially if you haven’t seen them for a while. You’ll be doing them a favour, too, because your friendship is also good for them.