Your friends are likely some of the most important people in your life. They help you celebrate the good times and provide support during the bad times. But did you know that good friends are also good for your health?

Many different types of studies show a strong link between friendship and wellness. In fact, four large studies compared a range of biomarkers such as blood pressure and body mass index in a wide range of participants ages 12 to 91. They found people with weaker social ties were less healthy overall. For example, a lack of social connections more than doubled the risk of high blood pressure in older participants. Those with a social network scored higher in nearly every health measure, at every age.

Studies show that having high-quality social relationships also can lower a person’s risk of depression and help them better manage the condition. A study of more than 2,000 high-school students showed that when clinically depressed participants had enough friends with what the study called a “healthy mood,” it doubled their chances of recovery. Other studies show that friendship helps to reduce stress and anxiety and helps people of all ages better manage their mental health.

Evidence also suggests that having strong social ties helps reduce the risk of developing dementia. A 2012 study followed more than 2,000 people ages 65 or older for three years, none of whom had dementia at the beginning of the study. Of those who said they felt lonely at the start, 13.4 percent developed dementia over the three-year study, compared with only 5.7 percent who didn’t feel lonely.

We all get busy and friendships take time. But it’s important to stay connected. Don’t just rely on social media and texting to keep in touch. Pick up the phone and call a friend. Put a kind card in the mail. And carve out time for face-to-face interaction.

The good news is that you don’t need to have a ton of friends to enjoy all of the benefits of friendship. Quality counts more than quantity. Just a few upbeat, supportive and close friends will do the trick.

The Hidden Benefits of Friendship

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