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“True Friends Leave Footprints in your Heart” Eleanor Roosevelt

February 14, 2014

friendsheart

Once again we are in the midst of the Month of the Heart: Valentine’s Day, Healthy Heart Awareness Month, The Random Acts of Kindness Week.  Last year at this time I wrote about the importance of self-love, with the encouragement that when you unconditionally love yourself, you are opening yourself to receive healthful, supportive, love in return.

Recently I have been wonderfully reminded about the enduring love of friendships, and was not surprised to learn that indeed friendships are good for heart health also!   There is a significant body of research that links stronger social ties to longer lifespans.  Friendships have a strong impact on relaxation, which is likely one of the reasons friendships are a contributing factor for those with lower heart disease risk, even more so for men.

Even more convincing is a recent study that shows that supportive friendships can save you from having a heart attack.  This study found that women with frequent, diverse social interactions were more likely to have healthy sleep time blood pressure profiles than more isolated women.

Additionally, A Swedish study of more than 13,600 men and women found that having few or no close friends increased the risk of having a first-time heart attack by about 50 percent. Another study of more than 500 women with suspected coronary artery disease showed similar results. Women who reported the lowest levels of social support were twice as likely to die during the study. The women who reported closed friendships  were not only more likely to be alive after two years, they also had lower rates of high blood pressure and diabetes and were less likely to have excessive abdominal fat.

How do friendships have such a profound effect on the heart? As reported in the Journal of the National Medical Association in 2009, friendships of course can help to relieve stress, a well-known contributor to heart disease. Friendships also may help to encourage a heart-healthy lifestyle. We are more likely to have a heart healthy diet, exercise regularly, and successfully quit smoking if we have a supportive network of friends and family.

Recently our Vista Hill SmartCare teams have been called upon to provide “Friendship” groups at many of our partnering communities’ schools.  This gives us the opportunity to encourage kids to develop empathy, to learn to verbalize their feelings, and practice the behaviors that invite others to want to become their friends.

Also, not surprisingly, our Women’s Empowerment Wellness Groups are among the favorites of events we provide in each of the communities we serve, as these groups also encourage and instill self-esteem,  the benefits of affirmations and communication; all supporting enduring relationships and friendships.

Cultivating and nurturing our friendships is a wonderful way to decrease stress, pull us from isolation and invest in both our emotional and physical heart health.   Yet in our increasingly “high-tech”, fast paced world, this may be more difficult to do.  We resort to texts, Facebook posts and other brief and intermittent means to maintain relationships.

I suggest that we take the time to prioritize our friendships, old and new, and find ways to connect/re-connect:  in person if possible, and by phone or “snail-mail” if distance precludes regular physical contact.  As awesome as romantic love is, many times our friendships outlast and outlive even our familial and marital ties, and so deserve to be nurtured and prioritized!

Pamela Sachs, LCSW

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 10, 2014 10:43 pm

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post!
    It’s the little changes which will make the largest changes.
    Thanks a lot for sharing!

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