Friends with Benefits: Could Your Childhood Friend be Tied to Your Long Term Health?

childhood best friends playing dress up and airplane with toys

Health is one of today’s most talked about topics—it covers fitness, mental health, and nutrition, among others. People are investing in healthcare, consuming better food, and adopting a better lifestyle overall. However, there is an idea disrupting this: could your childhood friend have an effect on your current health?With your personality traits, weight, and blood pressure also considered, the answer is yes.

Friends with Health Benefits

Remember that one childhood friend that you used to spend all your time with? It could be someone you met in the sandbox, or a high school buddy you sat with in each class and ate lunch with all the time. These friends you have known for a long time might actually have contributed to your health in adulthood—potentially making your life better without you even realizing it.

A new study published in the Psychological Science journal titled “Friends With Health Benefits: The Long-Term Benefits of Early Peer Social Integration for Blood Pressure and Obesity in Midlife” suggests that time well spent with childhood or adolescent friends eventually contributes to an adult’s weight and blood pressure.

Conducted by Jenny M. Cundiff at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, and Karen A. Matthews at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, the study revealed many interesting factors about health benefits stemming from childhood and adolescence. It also suggests that the more time a person spends with their best friends when they were younger, the more likely that person will have a healthy weight and blood pressure when they become adults.

In the study, they found that men who were more social when they were kids had lower blood pressures and lower body mass indexes (BMIs) as adults – although certain experts challenge how BMI really works and if its value is truly vital to a person’s health.

“These findings suggest that our early social lives may have a small protective influence on our physical health in adulthood, and it’s not just our caregivers or financial circumstances, but also our friends who may be health protective,” said Cundiff.

Link Between Health and Socialization

The pair investigated the already-existing link between health and socialization. This includes close relationships, as well as support from friends and loved ones, having a link to cardiovascular risk factors. While experts have already tapped on the idea, Cundiff and Matthews had the idea that this association might be traced back to childhood and adolescence.

While their study focused on males, the pair believes there are possible implications for all genders. They are definitely interested in future research that may cover a wider demographic. The decade-spanning study covered a sample of 267 black and white men, composed of 56% and 41% respectively. In addition, participants’ parents gave information on how much time their sons spent with friends on average from age 6 to 16. By age 32, the men who spent plenty or the most time with their friends have shown significantly better scores on various health markers.

Cundiff explained that these may suggest how a person’s social life in childhood and adolescence may have an influence in their adulthood. “It’s not just our caregivers or financial circumstances, but also our friends who may be health protective,” she affirmed.

“Although this wasn’t an experiment, it was a well-controlled longitudinal study in a racially diverse sample,” Cundiff said, explaining that their study included a diverse set of people, albeit all male. “It provides a strong clue that being socially integrated early in life is good for our health independent of a number of other factors such as personality, weight in childhood, and the family’s social status in childhood,” she said.

Although people cannot change the past, this study is an indicator of how influential the formative years of a person truly is. While there are other factors to consider such as genetics, alcohol use, medications, and even kidney and thyroid health, the study reminds adults that their offspring’s current associations and social life may impact what they grow up to be. As such, it’s wise to encourage interaction and socialization, not just on an emotional and mental level, but also for the possible physical repercussions.

About the Author

Dawna is a mom of two young kids, puppy lover, ice cream lover, chocolate lover, and lover of any ice cream with chunks of chocolate in it. She is the author of seven books, a business owner, certified health coach, motivational speaker, and creator of the 5-Day Detox and the 14-Day Clean-Eating Program. Dawna appears regularly on local and national television. She has appeared on the Today show, Martha, MSNBC, HSN, and morning news programs on NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox. Dawna is a highly sought-after speaker and has done speaking engagements for Chobani, Disney, American Heart Association, Mass Mutual, Wharton Business School, Women’s Entertainment Television, PGA Tour, Super Bowl Leadership Forum, Susan G. Komen, and many more.
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