Category Archives: Wellness

Don’t Forget Your Sunscreen!

Summer is here! And there’s so much to look forward to at summer gatherings — food, drinks, games, and sunshine.

But as enjoyable as it can be to fire up the grill and spend an afternoon with friends and family, outdoor parties can present health risks too. Before you head out to a barbecue or outside party, apply sunscreen.

Although the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends wearing sunscreen every day of the year, when you know you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors, it’s especially important to put it on.

The ACS and the Food and Drug Administration suggest choosing a sunscreen with the following:

Broad spectrum protection. This will ward off UVA and UVB rays. You want protection from both because while UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn and skin cancers, exposure to UVA rays also puts you at risk for developing skin cancer, as well as premature aging.

Sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or higher. SPF refers to how much sunscreen can protect against UVB rays. To understand the significance of these numbers, the ACS breaks it down this way: SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93 percent of UVB rays, SPF 30 about 97 percent, SPF 50 about 98 percent, and SPF 100 about 99 percent.

Water resistance. While no sunscreens are waterproof, those that indicate they are water resistant must state whether the protection lasts for 40 or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating. To best guard against sun exposure while in water or while sweating, reapply sunscreen at least every two hours.

So put on your sunscreen and have some fun in the sun!

Office Yoga

It’s no secret that sitting at a desk for hours each workday is not the best thing for our bodies.

“From a posture standpoint, it weakens the legs, can cause tight hips and low back pain, and stiff shoulders and neck,” said Michael Gervais, director of group programming for Equinox. “These are the biggest complaints we see these in our classes, and much of what we do in Western yoga is to counter the effects of this lifestyle.”
The good news is that doing small movements at your desk, even while seated, can make a difference.

“At minimum, you should stand and move around once an hour,” Gervais said.

Ready for a stretch break? Try these five yoga moves from Gervais to break up your workday.

1. Standing cat/cow
Use the side of the desk to arch and curl the spine. Inhale arch the spine, exhale round the spine, five to 10 deep breaths.

A standing cat/cow pose is demonstrated.

2. Standing twist
Use the desk or a wall as leverage and take three big breaths in a twist to each side.

A standing twist pose is demonstrated.

3. Crescent lunge variation
Put one leg behind you, then reach up with that same arm to stretch the front of the hips. Three breaths each side.

A crescent lunge variation pose is demonstrated.

4. Chair pose variation
With your feet touching, lift your butt a few inches off your chair, so your legs are working.

A chair pose variation pose is demonstrated.
Lift your chest and either keep your hands at your hips, or reach them overhead. Either way, keep opening across the shoulders. Five to 10 breaths.
It should feel like work for the legs.

5. Standing forward fold variation
With the feet hip distance apart, clasp your fingers behind the back and fold forward over the legs.

A standing forward fold variation pose is demonstrated.
Focus on squeezing your wrists together and opening across the chest. Let your head hang. Five breaths. Come out slowly.

Source: https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/wellness/story/yoga-moves-desk-international-yoga-day-56012758

5 Habits of Healthy Eaters

Most eating habits are established during childhood. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to adopt new, healthy habits.

Making healthy changes doesn’t require you to completely overhaul your diet. Start at your own pace by practicing these key healthy-eating habits.

Eat breakfast
Research indicates that eating breakfast every day helps with weight loss and weight maintenance by reducing hunger later in the day. When you break the overnight fast with a healthy breakfast, it’s easier to resist unhealthy choices during the day.
Include at least two food groups — such as whole grains, lean protein, dairy, or fruits and vegetables — at breakfast to put you on track for a day of healthy eating.

Drink water
Water is a crucial nutrient that often gets overlooked. Sixty percent of your body weight is made up of water and every system in your body requires it to function properly. Fluid needs depend on several factors: your health, your environment, how active you are, and if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. The Institute of Medicine recommends that men need about 13 8-ounce cups of water a day and women need nine 8-ounce cups of water a day.
Sometimes thirst can be misinterpreted as hunger. Check in with your body when you feel hungry, especially later in the day. Drinking a glass of water before eating can satisfy thirst and keep you from eating unnecessary calories.

Know what’s in your food
Eat foods that contain only ingredients that you can easily identify and foods with just a few ingredients. Eating more “real food” will help you cut out processed food, such as chips, cookies and frozen meals.

You will naturally choose fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and healthy fats. These foods are high in nutrients, but it’s important to keep portion control in check when it comes to foods in the protein and fat groups, since they tend to be high in calories.

Be politely picky at restaurants
Most restaurants serve large portion sizes, loaded with salt and fat. To keep from overeating, request a to-go box right when your meal is served and save half for the next day. That way, you won’t be tempted to eat more than you really want or need.

Ask your server how foods are prepared and choose menu items that are baked, broiled, roasted, seared, poached or steamed. Also make sure to ask for sauces or dressings on the side, and look for vegetables or fruit as side options instead of French fries.

Practice mindful eating
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that involves focusing intently on the present — what you’re feeling or sensing in each moment, even while eating.

The practice of mindful eating allows you to slow down and savor your food, which can help prevent overeating. How? It takes up to 20 minutes for your brain to register the chemicals that let you know when you are no longer hungry. Slowing down helps your brain catch up to how full you’re feeling.

Take a moment before eating and think of the food you are about to eat as fuel for your body. Remind yourself that you would like to feel satisfied, not stuffed.

Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/5-key-habits-of-healthy-eaters/art-20270182

The Risks of Inactivity: Why You Need to Exercise to Be Healthy

What do sitting and smoking have in common? Both are risk factors for chronic disease.

Researchers have been investigating ways to reduce our risk of chronic disease for decades. One big question: How much exercise is needed to prevent disease? The answer is at least 150 minutes per week. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ physical activity guidelines, adults should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, including at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities. Exercising up to 300 minutes per week has even greater health benefits.

This guideline was developed with the assumption that we are doing light physical activity throughout the day including walking and standing. However, many adults are mostly sedentary during the day. Many of us sit all day at our jobs and technology has replaced our need to do physical work.

Research shows that individuals who sit all day, even if they go to the gym for an hour, are at greater disease risk than those who are more active during the day. “Informal” physical activity such as walking to a coworker’s desk, around the mall or through the parking lot can add up to a lot of minutes throughout the day and is beneficial to overall health.

What is physical inactivity?

Physical inactivity is any time you are not standing or moving. Sitting at your desk, watching TV or being in your car for a long commute all fall into this category. Our health is impaired by how many hours we spend each day sitting, as well as the duration of those stints of inactivity.

Even those who exercise for 150 minutes each week aren’t safe from the dangers of sitting for too long.

What are the risks?

Many parameters to assess disease risk include blood sugar, insulin, HDL (the good cholesterol), waist circumference, triglycerides and blood pressure. Researchers have also studied the relationship between sitting and indicators of inflammation, which is common in people with heart disease. Studies have even investigated inactivity and risk of premature death. All of these outcomes can be negatively impacted by physical inactivity: The more you sit, the greater your risk for disease and early death.

How can we reduce physical inactivity at home and at work?

While there is no published recommendation for “safe” sitting time yet, a good rule of thumb is to move for at least 1 to 2 minutes each hour in addition to 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. If your job is sedentary, you can break up that time with bits of activity to improve your health. Here are a few tips to get moving throughout the day:

• Park far away from your building or use public transportation.
• Use a standing or walking desk.
• Have walking meetings, instead of sitting in the conference room.
• Take a brisk walk after lunch.
• Rather than send an email, walk to your co-worker’s desk.
• Stand during phone calls.
• Drink enough water that you use the restroom often.
• Play pool, go for a walk or play lawn games instead of watching TV.

Source: https://www.eatright.org/fitness/exercise/benefits-of-physical-activity/risks-of-inactivity-why-you-need-to-exercise-to-be-healthy

Easy Wellness Tips

Here are some easy wellness tips to help make you healthier and happier!

1. Drink more water. Proper hydration is necessary for good health. While our hydration needs can be met by drinking other beverages, drinking water provides a healthy calorie-free and sugar-free option.

2. Add 10 minutes of exercise to your day. If you don’t already exercise, aim to get 10 minutes each day. Try walking to start. If you do currently exercise, add 10 extra minutes to your routine.

3. Get moving at work. Aim to stand up more often, or take a quick walk or stretch break.

4. Go to bed 10 minutes earlier. By the end of the week, you’ll get 70 extra minutes of sleep. If you keep it up all year, you’ll have slept 60 hours more. Imagine how well-rested you’ll feel!

5. Add an extra serving of fruit or vegetables per day. Each day, find a way to eat one extra serving. You may have more opportunities than you realize!

6. Spend more time with friends and family. This can help you to relieve stress, laugh more and relax—all of which can help increase your well-being.

7. Eat breakfast—it truly is the most important meal of the day. Find helpful tips and breakfast ideas here.

8. Reduce your screen time. Much of our time is spent behind the screens of our computers, phones and tablets, or in front of the television. Spend time doing healthier, more interactive, and physical activities.

9. Brush and floss your teeth. Good oral hygiene can promote good general health. Get in the habit of brushing twice and flossing once per day.

10. Control your portions. Limiting your portions is necessary for healthy eating and weight management.

The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15

EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™, updated every year since 2004, ranks pesticide contamination on 48 popular fruit and vegetables. The guide, called the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, is based on results of more than 35,200 samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

If you would like to reduce your exposure to toxic pesticides, try to purchase organic versions of fruit and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list.

The group identified the following items on its “Dirty Dozen” list of produce with the most pesticide residue:

1. Strawberries
2. Spinach
3. Nectarines
4. Apples
5. Grapes
6. Peaches
7. Cherries
8. Pears
9. Tomatoes
10. Celery
11. Potatoes
12. Sweet Bell Peppers

Here are the items the EWG identified for its “Clean 15,” which report the least likelihood to contain pesticide residue.

1. Avocados
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Cabbages
5. Onions
6. Sweet Peas
7. Papayas
8. Asparagus
9. Mangoes
10. Eggplants
11. Honeydews
12. Kiwis
13. Cantaloupes
14. Cauliflower
15. Broccoli

Jane Brody’s Personal Secrets to Lasting Weight Loss

weightloss

By Jane Brody

When The New York Times hired me to write about science and health 52 years ago, I was 40 pounds overweight. I’d spent the previous three years watching my weight rise as I hopped from one diet to the next in a futile attempt to shed the pounds most recently gained.

No amount of exercise, and I did plenty of it, could compensate for how much I ate when I abandoned the latest weight loss scheme. I had become a living example of the adage: A diet is something one goes on to go off.

Even daylong fasting failed me. When I finally ate supper, I couldn’t stop eating until I fell asleep, and sometimes awoke the next morning with partly chewed food in my mouth. I had dieted myself into a binge-eating disorder, and that really scared me. Clearly, something had to change.

I finally regained control when I stopped dieting. I decided that if I was going to be fat, at least I could be healthy. I made a plan to eat three nutritious, satisfying meals every day with one small snack, which helped me overcome the temptation to binge in response to deprivation.

Much to my surprise, a month later I had lost 10 pounds — eating! Eating good food, that is, and plenty of it. I continued the regimen without difficulty because it was not a diet. It was a way to live and a healthy one at that. And I continued to lose, about two pounds a month.

Two years later, all the excess weight was gone. I never gained it back and never again went on a diet. (Even with a twin pregnancy, I gained only 36 pounds and lost them all when my sons were born at 6 pounds 13 ounces each.)

The greatest challenge to lasting weight loss, especially for someone like me with a food addiction, is the fact that no one can give up eating. Rather, one has to learn a better — and permanent — way to handle food.

I eat everything I want, in moderation. My meals — mostly homemade — are heavily loaded with vegetables, and I choose calorie-controlled snacks like popcorn at 35 calories a cup, a graham cracker at 59 calories for two squares, and ice cream (really ice milk) at 100 to 150 calories a half cup. No seconds!

My weight maintenance secrets are simple: I read nutrition labels before I buy anything in a package, I practice portion control, and I exercise and weigh myself every day to stay within a two-pound range appropriate for my height. If the number on the scale begins to creep up, I may walk, bike or swim a little more and eat a little less for a few days.

In a recent issue of JAMA, Dr. Eve Guth, internist at the Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Chicago, basically endorsed my approach. She wrote: “Successful long-term calorie reduction is most likely to result when patients decide for themselves which dietary changes to make and when. Essential to any effort is a clear understanding that dietary change is a slow process that requires ongoing vigilance” which, she admitted, “is not a popular concept in a world now accustomed to immediate results.”

Perhaps no one knows this better than Angelica Divinagracia, a fitness specialist in Los Angeles who at 53 still looks as good or better than she did as head cheerleader at U.C.L.A. In a posting mid-January on Facebook, she wrote, “The diet and nutrition business is a billion dollar industry because it’s designed for failure. When the diet ends, which ultimately it will, you go right back to where you were. Then you start another….”

Ms. Divinagracia said, “I don’t believe in diets or any particular products. I believe in learning how to create a healthy lifestyle, and the formula is simple.” The most salient points of her well-practiced advice are these: 1) Stop eating crap, 2) Eat good food that is real, not processed, 3) Avoid drinking your calories, 4) Know what one serving is and do not eat more than that in a sitting, 5) Move your butt every day — even just walking is better than being a couch potato, and 6) Stop making excuses.

Dr. Guth warns against numerous pitfalls, like being swayed by package claims of “low fat” or “low carbohydrate” instead of reading the facts on the nutrition label. “These foods do not necessarily have fewer total calories than the original version of the food,” she wrote, because sugar is often used to compensate for flavor lost, for example, when fat is reduced. Fruit juice may be fat-free but it is not low in calories because it contains large amounts of sugar, she noted.

She also urges closer attention to add-ons and condiments. “A beef patty has definite food value but after adding a large bun, dressing and extra cheese, the total calories (535) will far exceed the caloric content of the meat, pickle and tomato (240),” she wrote, adding that using butter, margarine or mayonnaise on a sandwich adds far more calories than mustard.

I don’t count calories, but I have a working knowledge of the approximate calories in nearly everything I eat. If you need to lose weight, I urge you to download a comprehensive calorie chart of common foods to help you make substitutions that will cut about 500 calories from your daily diet. You can do the same with an exercise chart, keeping in mind that the caloric cost of any activity depends on how strenuously you do it and how much you weigh.

Although most of the Jan. 16 issue of JAMA is devoted to studies of bariatric surgery, which offers the best route to permanent weight loss for some people, Dr. Guth pointed out that surgery is likely to fail too “if a patient is unwilling to make appropriate changes in food choices.”

She, like me, endorses Michael Pollan’s diet mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And like me, she notes that slow, steady weight loss suggests that you’ve made sustainable changes in your diet and exercise habits that can become second nature and last a lifetime.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/05/well/jane-brodys-personal-secrets-to-lasting-weight-loss.html

The Key to Weight Loss Is Diet Quality, Not Quantity, a New Study Finds

healthyfoods

Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows that the standard prescription for weight loss is to reduce the amount of calories you consume.

But a new study, published Tuesday in JAMA, may turn that advice on its head. It found that people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while concentrating on eating plenty of vegetables and whole foods — without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes — lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year.

The strategy worked for people whether they followed diets that were mostly low in fat or mostly low in carbohydrates. And their success did not appear to be influenced by their genetics or their insulin-response to carbohydrates, a finding that casts doubt on the increasingly popular idea that different diets should be recommended to people based on their DNA makeup or on their tolerance for carbs or fat.

The research lends strong support to the notion that diet quality, not quantity, is what helps people lose and manage their weight most easily in the long run. It also suggests that health authorities should shift away from telling the public to obsess over calories and instead encourage Americans to avoid processed foods that are made with refined starches and added sugar, like bagels, white bread, refined flour and sugary snacks and beverages, said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

“This is the road map to reducing the obesity epidemic in the United States,” said Dr. Mozaffarian, who was not involved in the new study. “It’s time for U.S. and other national policies to stop focusing on calories and calorie counting.”

The new research was published in JAMA and led by Christopher D. Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. It was a large and expensive trial, carried out on more than 600 people with $8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Nutrition Science Initiative and other groups.

Dr. Gardner and his colleagues designed the study to compare how overweight and obese people would fare on low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets. But they also wanted to test the hypothesis — suggested by previous studies — that some people are predisposed to do better on one diet over the other depending on their genetics and their ability to metabolize carbs and fat. A growing number of services have capitalized on this idea by offering people personalized nutrition advice tailored to their genotypes.

The researchers recruited adults from the Bay Area and split them into two diet groups, which were called “healthy” low carb and “healthy” low fat. Members of both groups attended classes with dietitians where they were trained to eat nutrient-dense, minimally processed whole foods, cooked at home whenever possible.

Soft drinks, fruit juice, muffins, white rice and white bread are technically low in fat, for example, but the low-fat group was told to avoid those things and eat foods like brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats, lentils, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, quinoa, fresh fruit and legumes. The low-carb group was trained to choose nutritious foods like olive oil, salmon, avocados, hard cheeses, vegetables, nut butters, nuts and seeds, and grass-fed and pasture-raised animal foods.

The participants were encouraged to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity but did not generally increase their exercise levels, Dr. Gardner said. In classes with the dietitians, most of the time was spent discussing food and behavioral strategies to support their dietary changes.

The new study stands apart from many previous weight-loss trials because it did not set extremely restrictive carbohydrate, fat or caloric limits on people and emphasized that they focus on eating whole or “real” foods — as much as they needed to avoid feeling hungry.

“The unique thing is that we didn’t ever set a number for them to follow,” Dr. Gardner said.

Of course, many dieters regain what they lose, and this study cannot establish whether participants will be able to sustain their new habits. While people on average lost a significant amount of weight in the study, there was also wide variability in both groups. Some people gained weight, and some lost as much as 50 to 60 pounds. Dr. Gardner said that the people who lost the most weight reported that the study had “changed their relationship with food.” They no longer ate in their cars or in front of their television screens, and they were cooking more at home and sitting down to eat dinner with their families, for example.

“We really stressed to both groups again and again that we wanted them to eat high-quality foods,” Dr. Gardner said. “We told them all that we wanted them to minimize added sugar and refined grains and eat more vegetables and whole foods. We said, ‘Don’t go out and buy a low-fat brownie just because it says low fat. And those low-carb chips — don’t buy them, because they’re still chips and that’s gaming the system.’”

Dr. Gardner said many of the people in the study were surprised — and relieved — that they did not have to restrict or even think about calories.

“A couple weeks into the study people were asking when we were going to tell them how many calories to cut back on,” he said. “And months into the study they said, ‘Thank you! We’ve had to do that so many times in the past.’”

Calorie counting has long been ingrained in the prevailing nutrition and weight loss advice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, tells people who are trying to lose weight to “write down the foods you eat and the beverages you drink, plus the calories they have, each day,” while making an effort to restrict the amount of calories they eat and increasing the amount of calories they burn through physical activity.

“Weight management is all about balancing the number of calories you take in with the number your body uses or burns off,” the agency says.

Yet the new study found that after one year of focusing on food quality, not calories, the two groups lost substantial amounts of weight. On average, the members of the low-carb group lost just over 13 pounds, while those in the low-fat group lost about 11.7 pounds. Both groups also saw improvements in other health markers, like reductions in their waist sizes, body fat, and blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

The researchers took DNA samples from each subject and analyzed a group of genetic variants that influence fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Ultimately the subjects’ genotypes did not appear to influence their responses to the diets.

The researchers also looked at whether people who secreted higher levels of insulin in response to carbohydrate intake — a barometer of insulin resistance — did better on the low-carb diet. Surprisingly, they did not, Dr. Gardner said, which was somewhat disappointing.

“It would have been sweet to say we have a simple clinical test that will point out whether you’re insulin resistant or not and whether you should eat more or less carbs,” he added.

Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study did not support a “precision medicine” approach to nutrition, but that future studies would be likely to look at many other genetic factors that could be significant. He said the most important message of the study was that a “high quality diet” produced substantial weight loss and that the percentage of calories from fat or carbs did not matter, which is consistent with other studies, including many that show that eating healthy fats and carbs can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.

“The bottom line: Diet quality is important for both weight control and long-term well-being,” he said.

Dr. Gardner said it is not that calories don’t matter. After all, both groups ultimately ended up consuming fewer calories on average by the end of the study, even though they were not conscious of it. The point is that they did this by focusing on nutritious whole foods that satisfied their hunger. “I think one place we go wrong is telling people to figure out how many calories they eat and then telling them to cut back on 500 calories, which makes them miserable,” he said. “We really need to focus on that foundational diet, which is more vegetables, more whole foods, less added sugar and less refined grains.”

— From the New York Times, February 20, 2018

Quick Guide to Nutritious Meals

family-cooking-large

Planning saves time and allows the opportunity to pack the family meal with an extra nutritional punch. Before you make your shopping list and head to the grocery store, consider the following criteria for healthier options:

  • Include at least one selection from each of the five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and protein foods.
  • Limit foods that are fried or highly refined.
  • Incorporate high-fiber foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds.

Here is a balanced and nutritious dinner that the entire family will love: Mediterranean chicken breast (a boneless, skinless chicken breast baked for 20 minutes with lemon juice, a pinch of oregano and topped with feta cheese); steamed broccoli; brown rice; low-fat vanilla yogurt topped with fresh berries; and a glass of water.

Make Meals a Family Affair

Even if in a rush, families still can work together for speedy meal preparation: adults can be in charge of the entrée, older kids can prepare a salad and little ones can help set the table.
Finally, to make the most of your family meals, make conversation part of the dining experience and reduce distractions by turning off the TV and phones and tuning into your loved ones.

When You Don’t Have Time for Homemade

If you don’t have time to whip up a homemade meal, you still can enjoy all the benefits of a nutritious family dinner. Here are four speedy meals you can prepare without breaking a sweat.

  • Frozen ravioli with store-bought sauce and a salad. A well-stocked pantry and freezer can go a long way in cutting down on last minute trips to the supermarket. Fill your pantry with go-to ingredients such as your favorite tomato-based pasta sauce, whole-wheat pasta and polenta, and load your freezer with different varieties of frozen ravioli, stuffed shells or manicotti. A healthful dinner will never be more than 20 minutes away.
  • Rotisserie chicken, frozen mashed potatoes and peas. When it comes to frozen veggies you can lose the guilt. Because they’re flash frozen within hours of harvesting, frozen vegetables actually may have more nutrients than fresh which can sit at the store for days. Plus, they’re ready in the microwave or on the stovetop in minutes. In addition to peas, load up on edamame, carrots, corn, chopped spinach and even mashed potatoes.
  • Veggie burgers with a cucumber salad. A vegetarian meal doesn’t have to mean hours slaving over the stove. Keep staples such as veggie burgers and whole-wheat buns on hand for a meatless meal you can throw together on the fly. Serve with sliced cucumbers drizzled with your favorite light vinaigrette dressing.
  • Grilled chicken Caesar salad with French bread. For a convenience meal that feels homemade, slice up store-bought grilled chicken breasts and toss with hearts of romaine and light Caesar dressing. If you have a few minutes to spare, bake up frozen whole-wheat dinner rolls or French bread and the house will smell like you’ve been baking all afternoon.

Friendship Is Good for You

friendship

Family and friends are two important kinds of relationships in your life, no doubt. But when it comes to making you happier over the long term, you might be surprised which group is the more powerful. While family members are important, when it comes to better health and happiness, it’s friendships that make the biggest difference—especially as you get older, according to new research.

An article published in the journal Personal Relationships, which summarizes the findings of two related studies, revealed that while both family and friends contribute to health and happiness, it was the relationships people have with friends that have the biggest impact later in life. In total, more than 278,000 people of varying ages from nearly 100 countries were surveyed, rating their health and happiness levels. Notably, in the second study (which focused on older adults, specifically), it was found that when friends were the source of tension or stress, people reported more chronic illnesses, while when someone felt supported by their friendship, they reported fewer health issues and increased happiness.

Why? It all comes down to choice, says William Chopik, Ph.D., author of the paper and a professor at Michigan State University. “I think it might have to do with the selective nature of friendships—we can keep around the ones we like and slowly fade out of the ones we don’t,” he explains. “We often spend leisure activities with friends too, whereas family relationships can often be stressful, negative, or monotonous.”

It’s also possible that friends fill in the gaps left by family or provide support in ways family members can’t or won’t, he adds. Friends may also understand you on a different level than family, due to shared experiences and interests. This is why it’s so important to maintain ties with old friends or make the effort to reconnect if you’ve lost touch with your childhood bestie or sorority sister. While life changes and distance can make this difficult at times, the benefits are well worth the effort to pick up the phone or send that email.

“Friendships are among the hardest relationships to maintain across the lifespan,” says Chopik. “Part of that has to do with a lack of obligation. Friends spend time together because they want and choose to, not because they have to.”

Thankfully there are some simple steps to maintain and enhance important friendships. Chopik recommends making sure to be a part of your friends’ day-to-day lives by sharing in their successes and commiserating with their failures—basically be a cheerleader and a shoulder to lean on. In addition, he says sharing and trying new activities together helps, as does expressing gratitude. Telling people that you love them and value their presence in your life is such a small thing to do, but it can make a huge difference in everyone’s lives.