Your best friend could be keeping you healthy and helping you to live longer. It's true. Scientists have recently discovered the enormous health and psychological benefits women gain from their friendships. Researchers neglected studying factors that were uniquely found in women health for decades. Now they are trying to make up for lost time. The study of women's friendships is just in its infancy.

What is known so far is that there is an important biological role that women's friendships play, and that they have a strong positive effect on health.

Women have grouped together throughout human societies for protection and mutual support. The lines of women's friendships cross ethnicity, socioeconomic status and age categories. Women have throughout history groomed one another, cared for one another in illness and childbirth, tended each other's children, and engaged in the kind of "aimless sociability" that has puzzled male anthropologists for years.

The prevailing view from the time of Aristotle until the 1970's was that women were not capable of real friendship. So-called experts said that females were not genetically programmed to bond with one other. Others stated that sexual jealousy and the intense need for men's approval inevitably resulted in hostility between women that did not allow for friendship. Women's friendships were disparaged as "two-faced," "gossipy," or "juvenile."

Women friends are expected to stand up for each other, share news of success, provide emotional support, trust in and confide in each other, volunteer help when needed, make the friend happy when together, repay debts and favors, be tolerant of the friend's other friends, avoid criticizing the friend in public, keep confidences, avoid jealousy and criticism of other relationships, avoid nagging and respect privacy. If any of these boundaries are crossed, the friendship is jeopardized.

Women are each other's confidantes, supported each other's courage, confidence and self-esteem, and been coconspirators in life's adventures. They share laughter and tears. By the time women are middle-aged, the majority have built the friendships that will sustain them for life

It is known that being connected to a support system greatly affects the health of both genders, according to researchers. Those who report loneliness die earlier, get ill more often and go through life transitions with more physical wear and tear than those with support.

Researchers think the hormone oxytocin, the hormone that increases following childbirth when nursing, is the elixir of friendship and of health. Oxytocin levels increase during times of isolation and stress. When it interacts with estrogen, it drives females to seek the company of others.

Researchers at Ohio State University and Carnegie Mellon University have shown that those who report strong social support systems have healthier immune systems and are less likely to succumb to infectious diseases. Kiecolt-Glaser, an expert who studies health and friendship, says that social support is "the most reliable" psychological indicator of immune response found to date.

Evidence has also been found that the broader network of friends and support that women have might protect them from dementia.

Women's friends generally give more to the psychological well-being of older women than do family members. Friendship is found to play a major role in the well-being of elderly women. The ties women have with other women help to sustain them in old age give them a sense of control over their lives. It helps them to adjust and accept aging and changing circumstances. It helps their self-esteem because friendships are based on choice, not obligation.

Friends gain validation, happiness and boost each other's self-worth through compliments, honest opinions and suggestions. When a woman is having a difficult time, she seeks out a friend to learn if her feelings or experiences are normal and healthy.

Other physical benefits of women's friendships are better digestion, lowering of heart rate, blood pressure, stress and the tendency to overeat. External aspects are also improved such as weight, complexion, flexibility and tone.

Nearly 1,500 people over the age of 70 were followed by researchers for 10 years, and it was found that people with the greatest support network of good friends lived longer than those with the fewest close friends.

These life-extending benefits remained significant even when people faced profound changes such as the death of a spouse or family member.

A Harvard School of Public Health study of more than 2,800 women with breast cancer found those without close friends were four times more likely to die than women with ten or more friends.

Indications that women 50 and older will find new directions for friendship already have begun to appear. The Red Hat Society, which has chapters in dozens of cities, is an example of women promoting a more positive cultural view of friendships among women after age 50 . Red Hat Society members wear red hats and purple clothing to symbolize that after age 50 women will make their own choices about what is in fashion. As founder Sue Ellen Cooper explained:

“The Red Hat Society began as a result of a few women deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor and elan. We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life, and since we are all in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together. Underneath the frivolity, we share a bond of affection, forged by common life experiences and a genuine enthusiasm for wherever life takes us next.”

The writer Anais Nin understood the value of female friendship. She wrote, "Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they

Any woman with friends like that not only has a precious gift; she may well have a longer, happier life too.

Author's Bio: 

I combined my life as a wife and mother to 3 children with my studies for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography, Medical Geography and American History at Strathclyde University, graduating with honours. Intent on sharing what I had learnt, I then took a Teaching Degree and embarked on a career as an A level Geography teacher.

When it came to teaching myself, I took a leaf out of the book of those very teachers who had inspired me to study. My aim was to fire my pupils with enthusiasm and encourage them to think outside the box. As such, I arranged yearly educational visits to the rainforest of Borneo so that they could experience another culture and country at first hand. During this time I also studied and published a thesis on the rainforest.

The urge to continue teaching through motivation and inspiration has led me to become a Lifecoach. I was privileged to study NLP under the direct guidance of its founders, Richard Bandler and John La Valle obtaining my certificate to be a Licensed Practitioner and Master Licensed Practitioner of NLP, EFT, Timeline therapy and Ericksonian Hypnotherapy, as well as becoming a Licensed NLP Coach. To compliment these techniques which are all about balancing the mind and the body, I also have a diploma in Human Anatomy – Holistic medicine which I studied in Goa.

I have now published my new book...The Love Revolution: Love Life, Not Strife.