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The Health Benefits of Strong Relationships With Exclusive Commentary From Anne Martin

Posted: December 21, 2010

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Research has also identified a range of activities that qualify as social support, from offers of help or advice to expressions of affection. In addition, evidence suggests that the life-enhancing effects of social support extend to giver as well as to receiver.

All of this is encouraging news because caring involvement with others may be one of the easiest health strategies to access. It's inexpensive, it requires no special equipment or regimen, and people can engage in it in many ways.

What counts

The quality of your relationships matters. For example, one study found that midlife, women who were in highly satisfying marriages and marital-type relationships had a lower risk for cardiovascular disease compared with those in less satisfying marriages. Other studies have linked disappointing or negative interactions with family and friends with poorer health. One intriguing line of research has found signs of reduced immunity in couples during especially hostile marital spats.

Having a network of important relationships can also make a difference. A large Swedish study of people ages 75 and over concluded that dementia risk was lowest in those with a variety of satisfying contacts with friends and relatives.

Strengthening ties this year

Take time to foster your most meaningful relationships. Choose activities that are most likely to bring joy to you and the people you care about. Delegate or discard tasks that eat into your time, or do them together with family or friends.