Getting friendly with your neighbors has more benefits than being able to borrow a cup of sugar -- it could even improve your health. A new study from the University of Missouri found an association between trusting one's neighbors and better self-reported health. The study was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
In the study, Eileen Bjornstrom, an assistant professor of sociology at the University Of Missouri's College of Arts and Science, examined households in the 2001 Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey. She found that people with higher income levels than their neighbors were more likely to not trust them. At the same time, people who said they did trust their neighbors reported better health on average, after taking into account factors such as income levels, education and age.
"(If you feel) that you are below another person financially, it leads to stress and negative emotions such as shame, hostility and distrust, and ... health suffers as a consequence. While most people aren't aware of how trust impacts them, results indicated that trust was a factor in a person's overall health," said Bjornstrom.
Bjorstorm suggested that improving shared community resources such as sidewalks and parks could possibly help to encourage neighbor interaction. This in turn could then possibly lead to improved overall health.
An earlier study conducted at the Arizona State University found that education also plays a role in the way neighbors feel about one another. It found that communities where people had reached higher education levels were more likely to feel connected to their neighbors. The University of Missouri research suggests, then, that aiming for higher education may also positively impact our health.
Here are seven other ways that friends can keep us healthier:
Having a highly active social life can decrease Alzheimer's disease risk by a surprisingly high 70 percent, according to new findings published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. The scientists, based out of Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago had noticed a link between less-social seniors and dementia, but they weren't sure if early dementia symptoms were causing isolation or if friends actually do keep your brain healthier, TIME reports. Turns out it was the latter: "Each one-point increase on the social activity score was linked to a 47 percent drop in the rate of decline in cognitive function, the researchers found," the TIME article says.
You may have thought you grew out of peer pressure in grade school, but a recent Australian study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that our friends have a direct influence over our physical activity levels and eating habits. "These findings suggest that healthy behavior may be contagious," lead author Kylie Ball of Deakin University, Australia was quoted saying in Science Daily.
Friendly chit-chat can have the same cognitive boost as, say, solving a crossword puzzle, according to research conducted at the University of Michigan. In a recent study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the scientists found that that a simple ten-minute conversation increased performance level on a battery of mental tasks. "Taken together with earlier research, these findings highlight the connection between social intelligence and general intelligence," lead author Oscar Ybarra said in a university press release.
Gossiping with friends gets a bad rap, but that may not be totally deserved. A study from Staffordshire University recently found that when people gossip about someone in a positive way, they actually leave the conversation feeling better about themselves -- but keep it nice: mean-spirited gossip had the opposite effect. Another study from a few years ago also found that happiness begets happiness: having a friend who is happy boosts your chance of feeling the same way by more than 15 percent, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Having supportive relationships can actually postpone the aging process. A recent study from Brandeis University researchers found that a strong social network -- especially when combined with physical exercise and a feeling of control in one's life -- could delay health declines by up to ten years.
Strong relationships with friends and family can increase your odds of surviving by a whopping 50 percent, according to recent research from Brigham Young University. The scientsists in the study found that a poor social life is even more harmful to your health than not exercising and equivalent to being an alcoholic. "We take relationships for granted as humans -- we're like fish that don't notice the water," study author Timothy Smith said in a university press release. "That constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically but directly to our physical health."
Talking to guy friends about sex isn't just for the locker room anymore. A recent study published in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences found that men aged 57 to 85 who discuss sexual problems -- such as lack of libido or impotence -- with their friends actually felt less depressed. But when these same men spoke to their doctors about the health problems they were facing, they were actually less likely to feel better.