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    Good Friends Are Good for You

    The Health Benefits of Good Friends continued...

    "[We] are social animals, and we have evolved to be in groups,” says Howe. “We have always needed others for our survival. It's in our genes.”

    People with a big social group tend to be more at peace, which leads to better health, says Howe.

    Other studies have shown that people with fewer friends tend to die sooner after having a heart attack than people with a strong social network. Having lots of friends may even reduce your chances of catching a cold. That's true even though you're probably exposed to more viruses if you spend a lot of time with others.

    Friends Can Be Stressful

    Your buddies can be a source of stress, though. In fact, friends can cause more stress than others because we care so much about them.

    Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, has found that dealing with people who arouse conflicted feelings in us can raise blood pressure more than dealing with people we don't like.

    "My colleagues and I were interested in relationships that contain a mix of positivity and negativity," she says. "For example, you might love your mother very much, but still find her overbearing or critical at times."

    By attaching people to portable blood pressure monitors, Holt-Lunstad and her colleagues found that blood pressure was highest when people were interacting with someone they had mixed feelings about.

    "We suspect that people we feel positive toward can hurt us that much more when they make a snide comment or don't come through for us because they are important to us,” she said. “Friends may help us cope with stress, but they also may create stress."

    So would we be better off having no friends at all?

    Hardly.

    "One thing research shows is that as one's social network gets smaller, one's risk for mortality increases," Holt-Lunstad says.

    How much? She says it’s almost as much as if you smoke.

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