Looking for a way to improve your health and well-being? Phone a friend! Take a trip! Better yet, do both at once.
Just last week I returned from my annual girls’ trip with four of my college buddies. Every February we meet somewhere…all five of us live in different cities and some states…to relax, catch up, and enjoy being with each other and in a beautiful place. We take turns choosing the destination; no one votes, no one does a thing but show up unless you are the gal picking that year’s locale. For 16 straight years we have done this. We laugh, we cry, we swear, we sightsee, we shop, we spa, we eat, we drink. And for the first time this year, we had a bit of drama but as true friends do, we get through it and move on. Most of all we value each other and our time together, and apparently we are on to something.
In today’s society of strangers and random “likes,” it was comforting to recently read that taking a trip with your girlfriends is not just good for your soul but good for your health too. Yay! Yippee!
But, you say, we already knew that, right? Yes perhaps, but now it’s scientifically proven and research based. It’s also a win-win: both travel and friendships are good for you. I’m in!
Friends with Benefits
Here’s the deal: researchers have found that hanging out with gal pals can actually increase the production of oxytocin, the “feel good cuddle” hormone that our bodies naturally make when we’re happy. Since it raises our levels of joy, it can also make us more generous, more trusting, a bit friendlier, and a host of other traits we look for in…friends! And if this “feel good” evidence isn’t enough to convince you science nerds, hold your lab coats and read on.
News flash: friendship can extend your life expectancy, lower the chances of heart disease, and help you tolerate pain. And, none other than brainiacs at Harvard have discovered that people who don’t have strong friendships may be more depressed, suffer earlier cognitive decline, and may even die at younger ages then those surrounded by loyal friends. So important are friendships that a lack of strong social ties increases the risk of premature death by 50 percent and how lonely one feels increases the risk of dementia. Call those friends and call them now!
Better yet, take a trip with them, as the benefits of friendships are very, very similar to the benefits of travel. Combine the two and voila, you’ve got pure awesomeness.
The Friendly Skies
So we’ve learned having trusted and loyal friends reduces stress, has positive physiological changes in the brain, reduces the threat of heart disease, and decreases the risk of depression but guess what? Travel does all those things too. Well, as long as you can handle the growing stress of flying these days.
Now we’re learning that traveling with friends just ups the ante and may be just what the doctor ordered.
Getting away from the daily stressors in your life, especially if you can surround yourself with trusted friends while on your escape, has a way of repairing, rebooting, and rejuvenating both your mind and your body. You leave behind your schedule, your laundry, and everything else that keeps you busy and rushed.
We already discussed the benefits having heartfelt friends has on your heart, and when you travel you tend to walk more than you might at home, which is also heart healthy. Both friendship and travel relieve stress and can reduce the risk of depression. In fact, the Wisconsin Medical Journal reported that women who travel may be less likely to develop depression.
People who travel for pleasure also tend to have a “life is good and I am blessed” attitude and don’t you feel that very same way after spending either a week or an afternoon with good friends? It’s a level of satisfaction that no website or post can give you.
And don’t give me the “I feel guilty traveling without my family” reason. Unless you are a single mom or nursing a baby, and even they can still maybe get away for even one night, that reason sounds more like an excuse. Your family will be just fine while you’re away and you’ll return to them a happier and recharged member. Our daughter still to this day reminds me of the time I left her with strep throat to leave on that year’s annual girls’ trip. She’s 25-years-old now but loves to remind me about it. Truth be told, I had taken her to the doctor, gotten her antibiotics, knew strep traditionally goes away quickly, and she was in good hands with her dad.
Phone a Friend
But don’t fret if a “friendcation” simply isn’t in the cards any time soon. A recent study showed that simply going out with the girls is equally beneficial. Happy hour? Check. Painting class? Yep. Round of golf? Tee it up!
The study, conducted by researchers at Oxford University, found that women’s overall health and happiness levels increase and improve the more they get together with friends. These quick snippets of love and laughter have a proven way of helping a woman heal faster from injury or illness and decrease stress and anxiety. The positive impact on both a woman’s mental and physical health proves that laughter is the best medicine.
But as women, we know that carving out time for a simple cup of coffee much less a five day vacay is difficult. We make time for family, work, exercise, and other commitments, but when it comes to girl time we tend to lollygag. In today’s mobile and moving world, it’s also common for friends to move away. I’ve lived in the same metro area for 33 years and have friends in different places from different phases of my life. They know everything about me, the good and the bad, and we’ve all been through so much. I love them but do I see them as often as I’d like? No, but each group does make a point of getting together and those are moments I treasure.
Maintaining close friendships may prove harder and harder as we age. Our kids grow up, jobs change, and energy levels diminish, but it’s important to point out that a Michigan State University psychologist found that in older adults, friendships are a stronger predictor of health and happiness than family member relationships. All I can say is that my girls’ trip consists of five women who don’t live near each other, have busy lives, and rarely see each other save for our annual trip, but we make it a point to do so every February. Yes, we know we are beyond lucky but we are also beyond dedicated.
So, whether booking a trip or making a reservation, what’s the key to building and maintaining a healthy group of gal pals? Most experts agree the smaller the group, the better. A large group will never be intimate and a small, close-knit one has a much higher level of commitment, the odds of scheduling conflicts decrease, everyone will always feel they are being heard and are validated and nurtured, trust will soar, bonds will grow, and reservations are much easier to make!
So maybe it’s time we stopped focusing on filling our lives with more things and more busyness, and instead call up that friend or group of friends you love and miss. Grab a coffee, see a movie, have a glass of wine. Maybe even take a trip. Whatever you decide or can do, it’s time to invest in friendships and not things. Your heart, body, and mind will thank you for it.