Taking Friendship To Heart
Friendships come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
There’s the friend who really listens. The friend who makes you laugh until you can barely breath. The old friend who you haven’t seen for five years but when you do, it is as if nothing has changed. The friend who holds you accountable and makes you act. The friend who says ‘hmm, you know what – I am not sure about that hot pink jumpsuit’!
Over a lifetime, we are fortunate to forge many friendships. And whilst we may value and treasure our friends for the ways they enrich our lives, we also need to thank them for the positive impact they have on our health. Yes, good friends are good for our health.
As a women’s charity, we can appreciate the strength and importance of the female friendships in our lives. And a large part of these friendships is holding each other accountable. We notice when our friends and family are not themselves – and it’s what we choose to do in that moment that is most important.
During a heart attack women are far less likely to seek medical help (39% of women compared with 52% of men) and far more likely to tell a friend or family member (35% vs 25%). If your friend tells you they don’t feel right, believe them.
But even before it gets to this stage, we have to hold those around us accountable to their health. It could be as simple as reminding them to have their annual heart health check, or whether they know that heart disease is 80% preventable!
Friendships and physical health
Having friends boosts our happiness, our sense of belonging and our purpose in life. Not only are they there to help us celebrate the good times but, importantly, they are also there to support us through the bad times. Whether it be a bereavement, divorce, illness or trouble at work, good friends can help us navigate the lows of life, reduce our stress and improve our mental health through difficult times. Friendships and the connections we have with others are now known to be important factors in the prevention of diseases as well an increase in life expectancy.
Friendships also help us stave off feelings of social isolation and loneliness. In an era when we are seemingly more connected thanks to social media and Smart Phones, the irony is that we are feeling lonelier than ever.
Unfortunately, feelings of isolation and loneliness can increase for somebody living with heart disease. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggested that those who feel lonely have poorer life expectancy when living with heart disease. Psychological risk factors such as low social support have been linked to an increased risk of Ischaemic heart disease (a condition where you do not have enough blood flow to your heart) in women.
One study has even suggested that having poor social relationships is associated with as much as a 29% increase in coronary artery disease.
So, the message is clear. No matter how busy life gets, make time to nurture friendships. Pick up the phone and call your friends today. Even better, plan that long overdue dinner, shopping trip, fun run or girls weekend away. Not only are your friends figuratively good for your heart, but they literally are too.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018, ‘Australia’s Health, 2016: Chapter 4 Determinants of Health’, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/australias-health-2016/contents/determinants
- Smaardijk et al., 2019, ‘Sex- and Gender-Stratified Risks of Psychological Factors for Incident Ischemic Heart Disease: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis’, https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/JAHA.118.010859
- Valtorta et al., 2016, ‘Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies’, https://heart.bmj.com/content/heartjnl/102/13/1009.full.pdf
- Heart Foundation Australia, 2014, ‘Women Less Likely To Survive A Heart Attack than Men’, https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/news/women-less-likely-to-survive-a-heart-attack-than-men