Are your friends affecting your physical and mental health?
"We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with,” says motivational guru Jim Rohn.
Scientific evidence backs him up.
“We have been able to show, using both observational and experimental methods, that seemingly very personal things like your emotional state or your body size, or how kind you are, or whether you vote or not, depends on whether other people around you do that, and even other people you don’t know,” says Yale University Professor Dr. Nicholas Christakis.
Here's How Friends Influence Your Health
While there are numerous ways that your friendships and relationships affect your health, here are seven top factors:
- Friends influence your choices and decisions. If you’re wavering on whether to do something or not, your friends’ opinions may be a deciding factor. However, the decisions of strangers you observe are likely to affect your behavior, too.
- Friends help you live longer. Research indicates that older people with a large network of friends tend to outlive others by 22%.
- Friends and family influence your mood. The Framingham Study showed that if one spouse became happy, the other spouse was 8% more likely to do the same. Siblings increased the effect to 14%.
- Friends influence your weight. The Framingham Study also showed that if a person’s friend became obese, the chance of the person growing obese increased 57%.
- Friendly competition drives success. People around you influence your results. Competing with others - even if you’re just playing cards - can help improve your own game. Additional studies demonstrate the co-action effect, where just doing something around other people helps you perform an action better.
- Close friendships reduce depression. Social support reduces the risk of depression among seniors and helps keep your mental health in check.
- Toxic friendships cause stress.Toxic friends, the ones who put you down and never give back, can reduce self-esteem and increase stress.
How to Improve Friendships that Influence You
If you’re worried that the people around you may be negatively impacting your mental and physical health, don’t despair! There are many ways to improve your relationships.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Volunteering exposes you to people of all ages, expertise, backgrounds, and social strata. You’re likely to meet different types of friends, depending on whether you’re a docent at a museum or you help out at a soup kitchen.
- Travel helps you meet people who are different from you.
- Get a pet. Not only will you always have a pet who will always be your friend, pets attract people who may become new friends.
- Walk around your neighborhood to get to know your neighbors and, maybe, make some new friends.
- Dump toxic friends. If a friend is truly toxic, there is nothing you can do to change it. Don’t waste any more of your time on them.
- Help critical friends. You may have a longtime friend who is going through a rough patch, and it’s made them more negative than usual. See if you can help them adopt a new attitude.
You can meet new people almost anywhere simply by talking to those around you. Whether you’re in the supermarket or waiting for a bus, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation.
Older people have a real advantage in this practice because most people are respectful of their elders. You may be surprised by the number of delightful people you meet on the street.
How Your Friendship Influences Others
If scientific research shows that you are influenced by others, does that mean that others are influenced by you? Absolutely!
“When you make a positive change in your life, when you act kindly toward others, when you vote, when you express joy and happiness towards others, it doesn’t just benefit you—it benefits those people and in fact ripples out and could affect many, many other people,” Christakis remarks.
And isn’t that what we all want? To positively impact others? Let’s go forth and model positive friendships. It will help us all live longer - and healthier - lives.
Make New Friendship at SugarHill Retirement Community
It may seem difficult to form new friendships as you get older, but sometimes all it takes is a change of address! At Sugar Hill Retirement Community, we offer numerous activities and events where like-minded seniors can forge new friendships and deepen existing relationships. Download our guide to learn why Wolfeboro is the perfect place for retirees.