But its benefits go beyond psychological ones. According to the US National Institute on Aging, social relationships may be associated with lower levels of inflammation in the body, which can lead to diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease. Being sociable can also lower blood pressure. And it can lower the risk of morbidity and mortality.

“It lowers blood pressure, leads to better immune system function and better sleep,” says DrVerenaMenec, a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba.

What’s also interesting is that when it comes to health benefits, not all social relationships are the same. A 2010 study from the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour found that the quality of these networks matters — and can influence behaviour.

“You’d think a person with a spouse really would be better off,” says Menec. But if the relationship with the spouse is not that good, the benefits are fewer, she says.

Menec says that one or two solid friendships — people who offer a hug and listen to your problems – can be enough for some people. But for most people, more is better. Having family members, friends and acquaintances who offer different social experiences — support, laughter, a sense of fun or caregiving — can meet a person’s social needs on many levels.

“You can gain different benefits from different people,” she says.

Keep your social networks alive

The worst thing people can do is socially isolate themselves and fall out of touch with old friends and acquaintances, says Menec. This can happen as people get older, or are faced with a chronic illness.

Dr. Michaela Hynie, associate professor in the Faculty of Health at Toronto’s York University,suggests that if older people feel discouraged from joining social groups, family members can help them overcome common barriers. They can encourage them, drive them, or arrange with local organizations to provide affordable courses, workshops, exercise programs or clubs.

Hynie also suggests volunteering as an excellent way to meet people and feel a sense of purpose. “Volunteering has been shown to be very beneficial,” she says. “It provides meaningful ways of connecting to others, which makes people feel better about themselves.”

Anna Sharratt, May 12, 2017, The health benefits of friendship [Web page]. Retrieved from Canada Sun Life Corporate Website read the article

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