We all get by with a little help from our friends, it’s true. But having good friends can also improve your health not only mentally, but physically too, new research suggests.
From your heart rate through to your nervous system functions, having a good amount of social integration is helping you stay healthy, according to a new study from Concordia University in Canada and published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
Researchers worked with a group of 60 international students over a five month period who were experiencing life changes due to moving countries, observing their health over that period of time. The participants completed a questionnaire to assess their social integration as well as how lonely they felt.
They also tracked the participants’ heart rates to detect any changes in their high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV) and indicate the health of the parasympathetic nervous system. Previous studies have shown that individuals with a lower HRV have an increased risk of developing cardiac disease and poor health.
For the students in the study, the heart rate variability increased those who had formed friendships and expanded their social networks. In contrast, those who remained more isolated had a decrease in their heart rate variability and therefore a higher risk of developing health problems.
This researchers concluded that prolonged social isolation could have a negative effect on a person’s physical health by impacting the function of their parasympathetic nervous system.