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Relationships: Friends keep you healthy

Most people know that proper nutrition, exercise, and regular checkups promote good health, but did you know that friendship is just as important? Research has shown that people who enjoy healthy relationships suffer fewer health problems. They also live longer.

Just as proper exercise and balanced nutrition improve the quality of your physical health, there are strategies that will improve the quality of your relationships.

Sending a positive message

The way we feel shows on our face and in our body language. When we are happy, we smile and walk tall. When we are sad, we frown and drag ourselves through the day. Research has revealed that it also works in reverse. Positive body language tends to produce a positive attitude. Smiling and laughing sets off actual physical processes that make us feel good. In short, we often feel what we express on our face and in our posture.

If you find yourself in a conflict or are undergoing a stressful event, such as a job interview, remember that a smile and positive body language go a long way toward making a success of a difficult situation. Not only will a smile help to win over other people, but it will make you feel better about yourself, too.

Your support network

The people you are close to make up your social support network. This network can include friends, relatives, neighbors, members of organizations you belong to, co-workers, and professionals such as your health care provider.

Different people in your network satisfy different needssuch as advice or information, material help, emotional support, and companionship. And, in turn, you can reciprocate these needs with the people in your support network.

Building a support network

Perhaps you're new in town or have just started a new job and do not have a support network. How do you "reach out?" Here are some suggestions:

Give the gift of time and attention. Everyone appreciates a friendly ear.

Plan special meals. Invite your neighbors or co-workers for a barbecue or potluck dinner.

Get a pet. Walking a pet is a great way to get out in the neighborhood and meet people.

Join a club or group. Become connected with individuals with common interests.

Volunteer for an organization in need. You’ll meet new people with shared interests, and contribute a valuable service to society.

Maintaining your family support network

The family is the original support group, yet often we fail to communicate effectively with our loved ones. Here are a few tips:

Be there. Spend quality time with your loved ones.

Make time. Set aside a special period each day to relax and talk.

Show interest. Listen and give support to what your kids and spouse or partner tell you.

Reserve judgment. As long as they're not hurting themselves, perhaps you don't have to object to your kids' music, fashions, or hairstyles that you might not understand or appreciate yourself.

Do things together. Share common interestshave a family game night, do puzzles, play Frisbee, have some fun.

Show respect. All family members are individuals with their own views and tastes.

Be a good friend

Being a good friend is important both within the family and outside the home. If you treat someone well, you're more likely to be treated well in return. Here are some guidelines a good friend should observe:

Keep your word, even about things that seem unimportant. What is trivial to you may mean a lot to someone else.

Allow others to shine. Avoid interrupting when it's someone else's turn in the spotlight. Instead, stand up and cheer for them.

Really listen when your friends speak. Oftentimes, people need to vent and be heard without judgment. Offer your help if needed but avoid giving advice unless asked. Be a comfort by simply listening to them.

Be honest, but show tact. Offer a critique only when asked.

Let others have the last word. Maybe you can top their story, but save it for another time.

Limit gripes and gossip to five minutes or less per session and always try to end on an upbeat note.

Don't make jokes at the expense of others—Even if they aren't part of your group, this may undermine your friends’ trust.

Don't keep score about who owes whom the most favors. A good friend enjoys helping just for the sake of being helpful.

Once you’re well on your way

Like anything else, establishing healthy relationships requires effort. It also calls for decided action. Even with the best of intentions, it's sometimes tempting just to let things run their course. The key to successful relationships lies in actively cultivating them. If you need help to repair and improve a troubled relationship, reach out to your organization’s assistance program for support.