Cindy La Ferle
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Sometimes I can't imagine what I'd do without the dear friends who keep me glued together, grounded, and (mostly) sane.
Current medical research supports my theory: Our health literally depends on the company we keep. Having an active social network can lower the risk for depression, enhance our ability to cope with illness, and increase longevity. As reported by AARP, women with large social networks reduce their risk of dementia by 26%.
By now, you've probably heard about the latest social isolation study released in May by Cigna, the health insurance company. As reported on WebMD, the study revealed that an "epidemic" percentage of Americans describe themselves as lonely -- especially those with extensive social media connections. According to Douglas Nemecek, MD, Cigna's chief medical officer for behavioral health, "loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity."
"If you want to start a new friendship or revive an old one, you have to reach out several times." ~Shasta Nelson, Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and HappinessHealthy relationships with family members are also essential to our wellbeing, but experts suggest that key health benefits are gained through active friendships outside our family circle. In this case, social media "friends" don't count unless you're spending time with them -- offline. Sorry, Facebook.
But making new friends while keeping the old can be a challenge for empty nesters, caregivers, retirees, and freelancers who work at home. Gone are the days of commiserating with other parents in the school parking lot, or gathering with coworkers by the coffee maker on weekday mornings.
"It's important to nurture a few close friendships to meet our various needs." ~Irene Levine, PhD, Best Friends Forever
Relationships that are based on proximity -- or a built around a single common interest -- are more likely to fade when the common interest changes. As our kids grow up, for instance, we're not as socially involved with the parents of their schoolmates. Likewise, when we change jobs, we might lose contact with most of our former coworkers. Friends naturally drift apart for a variety of other reasons -- but the happy memories are still treasured.
Building a tribe of BFFs
Better yet, having a variety of friends will help broaden your perspective and enrich your social life, Levine adds.