Healthy social life: Why good friends are so important for health

Healthy social life: Good friends play a major role in immune defense

It has long been known that the immune system can be strengthened with certain foods. Adequate exercise also strengthens the immune system. It is also advisable to sleep enough, to breathe in the sea or forest air regularly and to take alternate hot and cold showers to protect yourself from infections. Another tip for a strong immune system: cultivate social life.

Friendships serve health

It has been known for a long time that loneliness harms health and friendships are good for the psyche and body and has been partially confirmed in scientific studies. British researchers found that a healthy group of friends can protect against depression. Even virtual contacts seem to have positive effects: US scientists reported in the journal "National Academy of Science" that many Facebook friends increase life expectancy. An intact social life also helps to strengthen the immune system.

More susceptible to diseases in periods of stress

It is not surprising that you are more susceptible to runny nose or flu during or after a stressful phase. After all, the immune system is attacked during this time.

Chronic stress can arise in many ways, including when something is wrong in social life.

Contacts with family and friends play an important role in immune defense. Experts explain how important they really are to us in a recent dpa news release.

Social environment gives us closeness, support and trust

Prof. Christian Schubert from the University Clinic in Innsbruck, who has been researching the interactions between psyche and immune system for years, describes a good social environment as an "elixir of life".

Classic immunology was long skeptical, but now we have "to deal with facts that can no longer be dismissed out of hand," explains the psychoneuroimmunologist in the dpa report, which points out that the immune system can be conditioned .

According to the information, modifications of the genetic material can be observed in the laboratory down to the cell nucleus.

However, it is not the short-term psychological stress that is troubling us, but the chronic - such as prolonged loneliness.

As will be explained further, the social environment gives us closeness, support, trust and a sense of belonging. If we don't have that, it often leads to loneliness and bitterness, which in turn can result in chronic stress.

As a result, external loads are processed poorly. In the worst case, this leads to us getting sick, sometimes physically.

Involuntary loneliness increases the risk of illness

Nevertheless, you don't have to surround yourself with a huge group of friends. As Prof. Thomas Fydrich from the Humboldt University in Berlin explains according to dpa, the size of the social network correlates little with a person's satisfaction.

"Because loneliness is not objective," said the expert. Some couples are self enough. And also some hermits who are on their own live happily. If people are involuntarily lonely, the risk of illness increases.

But who gets which disease then? "This is a very exciting question, to which there is still no concrete answer," says Schubert.

According to the expert, it is clear that several factors play a role: for example genetic, personality structure and living environment.

Some people might be more likely to catch a virus under certain circumstances, others were more likely to develop an allergy and others would have to deal with inflammation.

Immune defense is also reduced in people with depression.

As further explained, however, a lively social life is not a guarantee of mental and physical health either.

After all, the immune system is a very complex and sometimes fragile structure. Not only the psyche plays a role here. Sleep, exercise and a healthy lifestyle are also crucial to strengthen the immune system.

Do something with other people

In addition, social life can also become a risk factor, for example if one cannot say “no” and contact with fellow human beings becomes too much, explains Fydrich. In such cases, there is a kind of "social stress" that is not healthy.

Caring for relatives represents an extreme case of social stress. According to Schubert, carers are particularly at risk if the task leads to excessive demands.

According to the dpa, Fydrich explains in addition: "Especially in a stressful situation like nursing care, it is important to mobilize resources and discuss your problems with someone."

A social network therefore acts like a buffer. The more diverse and diverse, the greater the impact.

A social environment that consists of more than one person can therefore be advantageous. If, for example, a caregiver falls ill, separates or dies, the other people can at least partially compensate for this.

For people who tend to live in seclusion, as well as couples who are mostly on their own, Fydrich therefore recommends: "Go to clubs, do something, do something with others!"

It is not about doing something particularly ambitious or intensive. Even playing cards once a month may be enough maintenance for your own social network - and thus increase the support resources for a future crisis. (ad)

Author and source information

Video: What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness. Robert Waldinger (May 2021).