It’s hard to argue with the allure of watching Netflix in our jammies, there’s a good reason to ditch the TV (and the family or roommates) at least twice a week to hang out with your girlfriends. Research from the illustrious University of Oxford (England, not Mississippi) suggests that meeting up with friends twice a week is good for your health.
“The figure of twice a week comes from our findings that this is the amount of time that you typically spend with your closest friends/family,” Dr. Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford, told The Huffington Post. “For both sexes (no surprise) having a large, well-integrated social network has a significant impact on both physical and emotional health. People with larger and/or more integrated networks suffer less illness, recover quicker from surgery, are less likely to die — and even their children are less likely to die.” Those alone are pretty compelling reasons to get off the couch a few times a week, but there are even more reasons, too: People who make time for friendship experience faster recovery times when faced with illnesses and higher levels of generosity.
This isn’t the first study to suggest that hanging out with your friends is good for you. Researchers at UCLA found that women tend to have a broad biological coping mechanism for dealing with stress. The behavior is known as "tend and befriend," respond to stressful conditions by protecting and nurturing their young (the "tend" response), but also by seeking out social contact and support from others, especially other females (that’s the "befriend" part). When you’re stressed and anxious, hanging out with your female friends is natural and can help calm you down.
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The researchers believe that the reason for this lies with the hormone oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, which makes mothers bond with their newborn babies. "Oxytocin has been studied largely for its role in childbirth, but it is also secreted in both men and women as a response to stress," UCLA principal investigator Shelley E. Taylor said, noting that people with high levels of oxytocin are calmer, more relaxed, more social and less anxious.
If you can’t meet up with your friends in person, just talking to them on the phone can work wonders as far as lowering stress levels. That said, the Oxford study revealed that hanging out in the real-world is far stronger “bonding experience” than chatting on the phone or internet. Physically meeting up with friends twice a week is the best way to reap the health benefits of friendship.
Researchers at Stanford came to a similar conclusion in their study on the effects of oxytocin on the brain. They found that oxytocin levels are raised when people are having pleasant experiences and it in turn calms them down and makes them happy.
Of course, there’s no need to have all the fun yourself: Dunbar’s study shows that going is good for men, too. According to Dunbar, “Bonds can be formed through a range of activities from team sports to male banter – or simply having a pint with your pals on a Friday night. However, the key to maintaining strong friendships is to meet up twice a week and do stuff with the four people closest to you.”
According to the study, men who maintain social groups maintain social groups were healthier, recovered from illness more quickly, and tended to be more generous. Plus it just gets them out of the house, which is good for everybody.