Can Female Friendships Improve Your Health?

WRITTEN BY Sarah Greenfield, RD, CSSD

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Science says yes!

Let’s face it: We live in a time in which instant connection is easier than ever. We can basically get whatever we want, whenever we want it. Want to remember the name of the actor that was in the movie you love? Look it up. Want any type of food you can imagine on your doorstep? Order it. Want a date for Friday night? Swipe away! However, with all this connection, we seem to be more disconnected than ever.

Community connection is at the core of who we are as humans, and this connection is especially important for women. There are so many pressures on the modern woman to be “perfect” that we’re left feeling inadequate and compare our accomplishments and even how we look, dress, and feel to our peers. But when we can put aside our judgments and embrace our differences, we’re also able to uplift and empower one another. Spending in-person, quality time with a group of women can have an incredible effect on your health.

Support-System Science

Staying on top of healthy eating and exercise routines is important—but sometimes we need that little external push to keep going. Using friends or a healthy community to talk through a slump makes a huge difference.

And guess what? There’s science behind why this works. Oxytocin, the bonding hormone, helps to stimulate dopamine, a neurotransmitter that drives internal rewards and encourages us to learn, explore, and achieve psychological wellness. When it comes to behavior, it’s much easier to make healthier decisions because we want to, rather than feeling like we “should,” which is exactly what dopamine helps us do.

Female Friendships for Health - The Wellnest by HUM Nutrition

A Newly Discovered Response To Stress

Stress is a physiological response to the environment, not just a state of being. When the body’s under stress, a hormone called cortisol is released. Our bodies don’t know what causes the stress; it just knows how to set the right hormonal reaction into play, aka the “fight or flight” stress response.

For years, researchers thought that this was the only stress response mechanism. But research shows us that there’s actually an alternative stress mechanism called “tend and befriend” that’s unique to women.

This alternative stress response is triggered when women exercise their more nurturing side: spending time with their children or families, calling a friend, or even gathering with a group. Activities like this stimulate oxytocin (the bonding hormone) release. Oxytocin can help calm the nervous system and reduce levels of stress. Spending time with supportive women can increase stress resilience.

Other Benefits of Getting Together

Something magical happens when women gather—especially those who are going through a similar health journey. It can be easy to get caught up and compare ourselves to others, but the truth is no one is perfect and we all have aspects of life and our bodies that we struggle with!

We often only think of success as us reaching our goals. But reaching our goals isn’t always a journey that comes in a neat little package. Social media is especially good at glossing over this fact and making us feel “less-than” or “not good enough.” We always see the before-and-after photos, but what does life look like in between?

Gathering with our peers reminds us that we’re all on our own health journey. The path from point A to point B isn’t always linear. We eat healthy, we mess up, we get back on. Listening to how others can progress and overcome obstacles is incredibly empowering, because it reminds us that us too can achieve anything we want.

In sum, no one has it figured out! We’re all on a journey, which is so much more enjoyable when we can spend it with friends—especially because it has such a positive impact on our bodies and brains!

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