4 Reasons female friendships are good for you

Reader's Digest Editors 13 February 2019

A good friend listens without judgment, rejoices in your successes, and isn’t afraid to let you know there is something stuck in your teeth…

Friendship can have a number of surprising health benefits, although researchers are still determining just what it is about spending time with friends that can lower blood pressure, boost willpower and even prevent breast cancer, among other things. 

This positive influence is rooted in psychology, says Barbel Knauper, associate professor of psychology at McGill University. “Our perception of behaviour is influenced by the judgment of people who are important to us.” In other words, we care what our loved ones think. That said, for reasons that are not yet fully understood, gal pals tend to have a greater influence on each other than male pals have on their friends. 

To swap only good health behaviours, make sure you hang out with motivational, close friends (Facebook-only “friends” don’t count). Unless you’re in meaningful friendships—and experts say you know when you are—you may experience the negative health effects of loneliness, according to research. Here are four health reasons to cherish a close pal:


1. She could lower your blood pressure

friends are good for your health

A study published in Psychology and Aging earlier this year showed a direct correlation between chronic feelings of loneliness and large increases in blood pressure over four years (by as much as 14 mm of mercury—enough to push someone from normal into hypertensive range).

Researchers determined that loneliness is a health risk factor in its own right. Says Louise Hawkley, lead author and research scientist in the department of psychology at the University of Chicago: “Dealing with feelings of loneliness and fostering a sense of connectedness could help slow the progression of blood pressure increase. Satisfying friendships are key.” 

Read more: 9 Fabulous films about female friendship


2. Your friend could give you better self-control


reasons friends are good

Watching or even thinking about someone with good self-control makes you 20 per cent more likely to exert restraint (the opposite holds true, too), according to one study.

The effect is strong, and works instantaneously simply because it increases the amount you think about self-control, explains Michelle vanDellen, the study’s co-author and an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Georgia.

“When you are faced with temptation, remember that how you act also affects those around you,” vanDellen explains. “By giving in, you’re not only hurting yourself but harming the self-control of your friends and family.” 


3. She might help you avoid breast cancer

why are friendships good for you

A landmark study on rats showed that social isolation increases the risk of breast cancer three-fold. The University of Chicago researchers suggested that it’s the increased stress as a result of social isolation that may directly feed the growth of breast tumours. This supports earlier research that showed nurses with breast cancer who didn’t have close friends were four times more likely to die of the disease than those who had 10 or more friends. 

Researchers in a study of nearly 3,000 nurses with breast cancer discovered that women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends. Furthermore, proximity and the amount of contact didn’t affect survival rates. Just having friends was protective. 


4. Gal pals could make exercise a pleasant addiction

women enjoying each others company

Researchers from the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology in Oxford have shown that exercising with two or more people unleashes a flood of chemicals called endorphins, which are known for their analgesic and feel-good psychological effect.

While endorphins are produced by any vigorous exercise, group exercise enhances their impact.