Why positive relationships could help keep us in good health

Friends are a source of happiness and well-being, and are synonymous with sharing, through good times and bad.

Could your friends and relations have an influence on your blood pressure? While they were unable to establish an exact causal link between relationship experiences and physiological effects, a team of international researchers found statistical associations between these two phenomena.

To do so, they analysed data from 4 005 people in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, who were monitored daily via their smartphones or smartwatches.

The goal was to provide data about their blood pressure, heart rate, stress and coping skills, combined with information about experiences of their closest relationship, delivered every three days.

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Positive relationship experiences linked to better health outcomes

Published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the results of their research, conducted between 2019 and 2021, suggest that a higher level of positive relationship experiences are associated with reduced stress, improved coping skills, and better physiological functioning, such as blood pressure and heart-rate responses.

And the opposite is also true, as negative relationship experiences tended to predict higher blood pressure, which can in turn be responsible for long-term health issues.

“It would be useful to examine other physiological states, such as neuroendocrine or sympathetic nervous system responses as outcomes of daily positive and negative relationship experiences, which may reveal different patterns of associations,” explains the study’s first author Brian Don, a psychology lecturer at the University of Auckland, quoted in a statement. Note that the researchers specify that these are associations and not specific causal links.

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Insights from recent studies

According to the scientists, these results are particularly interesting considering the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic may have had and still have on social relationships, and therefore potentially on physical health.

Further studies are now needed to try to find a more precise causal link between social interactions and physiology.

A recent study published in the journal General Psychiatry also revealed a link between friendship circles and the development of long-term chronic diseases in women, reflecting a certain interest in this field from the scientific community.

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