Good Friendships. Great Health.

Dr. Marjorie Jenkins

Women tend to rely on friends during times of stress. They get together to share experiences and to learn from each other’s perspectives on life and various situations. Medical research is now showing how positive social connections can make a wonderful difference in a woman’s health.

A friend in need.

A landmark UCLA study shows when women are under stress, the hormone oxytocin is released. This hormone causes us to gravitate toward “tending or befriending.” We tend the children/family or see our friends. This action of tending or befriending causes the body to release more oxytocin. Estrogen also enhances oxytocin and increases this stress response.

Benefits of friendship.

Take heart.
Study after study has found that social ties reduce a woman’s risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol.

Stayin’ alive.
In one study, for example, researchers found that people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a six-month period. And in another study, those who had the most friends over a nine-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60 percent.

The good life.
Friends are also helping us live better. The Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life.

In fact, the results were so significant, the researchers concluded that not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight.

When the going gets tough, the tough find time for friends.
So if friends are so good for us, why are they the first things (after exercise) that get the ax when we are overwhelmed or stressed? It seems the busier we get with family commitments, work and volunteering, the less effort we make to be with friends. Even though research shows that is exactly what we need. That’s a mistake because women are such a source of strength to each other.

Keep up with your connections. Keep your health going strong.
When women have the opportunity to get together and share experiences and nurture each other, it can be a positive and healing experience. We should not ignore good relationships; it could be hazardous for our health. Go call a friend for coffee or lunch, plan a weekend away, or just take a long walk and talk about anything and everything. It may just be the best thing you’ve done for yourself in a long time.

Marjorie R. Jenkins, M.D., is an internist who has focused her career on women’s health and gender-specific medicine for more than a decade. She is the founding executive director of the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health (LWBIWH) at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC). She will speak at the Texas Conference for Women on a panel about women’s health.