Question of the Week

August 7, 2007


A couple of years ago, there was a study that spoke to the importance of having good friends. Study participants were tracked for ten years, and...

"The beneficial effects on survival persisted across the decade, irrespective of other profound changes in individuals' lives, including the death of a spouse or close family members, and the relocation of friends to other parts of the country. The authors speculate that friends may influence health behaviours, such as smoking and drinking, or seeking medical help for troubling symptoms. Friends may also have important effects on mood, self esteem, and coping mechanisms in times of difficulty. An accompanying editorial suggests that feeling connected to others may provide meaning and purpose that is not only essential to the human condition, but also to longevity, conferring a positive physiological effect on the body in the same way that stress confers a negative effect."
Science Daily

A couple weeks ago, a study suggested that even when it comes to talking with friends, too much of a good thing can be bad.

"Girls who discuss their problems extensively with friends may be at increased risk of developing depression and anxiety symptoms, a new study suggests. ... Researchers suspect that such "co-rumination" causes some girls to dwell on fleeting problems like boy trouble and party snubs, leading to persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness or worry. On top of this, girls who spend time hashing out their problems may leave little room for positive activities that could make them feel better, according to Dr. Amanda J. Rose, an associate professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia. 'Talking about problems in moderation definitely is healthy,' Rose told Reuters Health. But, she said, 'co-rumination seems to be too much of a good thing.' ... Girls should still be encouraged to talk with their friends about their problems, Rose said, just not to an excessive degree. She added that parents should also encourage their daughters to come to them, since they can help their children put their problems into perspective. While this study involved only adolescents, Rose noted that the findings may well apply to adults also."
National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus

Talking with friends is good, and it can be good for a person's mental health. As with anything, balance and moderation are key. A person's friends can influence them greatly, and just as having a friend who is a good listener can be positive, having a friend "co-ruminate" can be too much of a good thing.

Friends can influence how we see the world, and how we see ourselves.

"If your friends and family get fat, chances are you will too, researchers report in a startling new study that suggests obesity is 'socially contagious' and can spread easily from person to person. The large, federally funded study found that to be true even if your loved ones lived far away. Social ties seemed to play a surprisingly strong role, even more than genes are known to do. 'We were stunned to find that friends who are hundreds of miles away have just as much impact on a person's weight status as friends who are right next door,' said co-author James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego. The study found a person's chances of becoming obese went up 57 percent if a friend did, 40 percent if a sibling did and 37 percent if a spouse did. In the closest friendships, the risk almost tripled. Researchers think it's more than just people with similar eating and exercise habits hanging out together. Instead, it may be that having relatives and friends who become obese changes one's idea of what is an acceptable weight. Despite their findings, the researchers said people should not sever their relationships. 'There is a ton of research that suggest that having more friends makes you healthier,' Fowler said. 'So the last thing that you want to do is get rid of any of your friends.'"

"So the last thing that you want to do is get rid of any of your friends."

You can help your friends stay healthier (mentally and physically) just by being a good friend, just as having good friends can positively influence your health.

That said, what you choose to do and talk about when you are with your friends can determine how healthy your friendship is. While one good friend wouldn't intentionally encourage unhealthy habits in another, one might not think to encourage healthy habits if it is not something you usually do together.

"One of the hardest things about keeping a commitment to be physically active is staying motivated. Friends can help. ... If you're making excuses not to exercise, consider inviting a friend to join you. Having a regular partner can make all the difference in motivating you to pursue sports such as swimming, golf, tennis and biking. Ask someone who is genuinely eager and willing to make a commitment. A friend or partner who goes along because you've twisted their arm will usually find an excuse not to turn up. It's probably wise to choose someone with a similar fitness level. It's tough to be the one who is always struggling to keep up. However, it can be inspiring to learn from someone who really knows what he is doing -- and can gently push you to go farther or faster. ... Find out what activities your close friends and work colleagues enjoy, and make a few dates to see whether you enjoy doing them together. ... Choose something you can do easily and spontaneously. Expensive activities that require elaborate equipment or driving to a special location (e.g., skiing, water skiing) are not typically the best choice for regular exercise. ... If you can't find a willing friend or family member, join a class. You'll feel committed to attend the class sessions, and you're likely to meet a buddy you can keep exercising with once the term ends."

Questions of the Week:
What role do your friends play in your life as you decide what is considered healthy behavior? What influence do you have in the lives of your friends? How can you be a good listener without "co-ruminating" when your friends need to talk? What can you do to encourage healthy choices within your friendships?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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