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Why making — and keeping — friends is important for men's health

| Healthy You | Mental Health

Black man wearing glasses uses cell phone to take selfie with 2 other men on outdoor basketball court

Making simple connections can prevent depression, lower blood pressure and improve heart health.

Do you ever feel better after calling a friend or meeting someone for coffee?

That good feeling isn’t your imagination.

Research studies show that friendship helps people’s health. It’s especially important for men.

“There’s no doubt that loneliness affects everyone, but men can be at a greater disadvantage. They’ve often been taught to be more stoic and guarded. And our culture doesn’t make it easy for men to ask for help,” says Kofi Bonnie, DNP, MSc, RN, RPN, director of Behavioral Health at PeaceHealth.

On average, men have shorter lifespans due to health issues. Many have physically taxing or socially isolating jobs. And since the pandemic, the rate of suicide has gone up — dramatically more so in men than in women.

What keeps you away from friends

Maintaining your social network can help, says Dr. Bonnie. But you have to think about and take actions to keep it going.

After school or college, you can be pulled in various directions. Maybe you end up focusing your time and energy on work or family. It’s common to let friendships slide.

As you get older, you might avoid time with others because of health conditions, hearing loss or other concerns that make social situations awkward or painful.

But you’ll thank yourself (and others may thank you too) for making friendship a priority.

How friendships help health

Would you be surprised to know that friend relationships can help men with their mental health, stress reduction and overall well-being?

Studies also found that friendship can improve your health by:

  • Lowering blood pressure.
  • Improving longevity.
  • Increasing feelings of satisfaction in life.
  • Decreasing risk for depression and anxiety.
  • Improving heart health.

By contrast, there are several drawbacks to going through life alone.

One study found that loneliness can increase the risk of early death by 26%. Staying away from others can have other health effects, too. Scientists have found a link to higher risk of conditions like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Poor sleep, weaker immune systems and increased inflammation also may be connected to being isolated.

And medications to treat depression or other conditions can sometimes have a negative impact. It’s especially difficult if the side effects cause challenges with sexual intimacy, says Dr. Bonnie.

Making positive changes

You might wonder how friendships can counteract all that.

It often boils down to stress management. Managing stress is a powerful way that men can help each other cope with stress in life, says Dr. Bonnie. “Your friends can serve as a sounding board to help you understand and adapt to what’s going on in and around you. And you can do the same for them.”

So, what if you’ve lost touch with friends?

Consider rekindling old relationships that are healthy or starting new ones.

“An old saying applies: ‘If you need a friend, be a friend.’ And everyone needs a friend,” says Dr. Bonnie. “By being a friend, you’re not only doing something good for yourself, but you’re also making a difference for someone else.”

You don’t need a lot of friends to feel the positive effects. Just one or two close buddies can be enough.

Tips for making friends

You might find it easy to make friends at school or on the job. Outside of work, there are many ways to connect with others.

Go to places or do things where you can make new friends. Here are a few ideas:

  • Use your favorite hobby to find people who like what you like.
  • Work out at a gym where you can connect with others.
  • Attend a church, synagogue, mosque or other house of worship.
  • Regularly visit a local library or community center.
  • Volunteer at an animal shelter or food bank.
  • Sign up for a project or cause you care about.
  • Take a class at the community college.
  • Join a book club.

If you’re feeling rusty at friendships, consider reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. The book was first published in 1937, but themes from it still resonate:

  • Be genuinely interested in other people. 
  • Smile. 
  • Remember and use people’s names. 
  • Be a good listener. 
  • Talk in terms of the other person’s interest. 
  • Make them feel important.

These are useful not only in making friends, but also in keeping them.

Tips for maintaining friendships

You can build friendships in small ways. “It doesn’t have to take a lot of time,” says Dr. Bonnie. You can make time for friends a few times a week.

See if any of these work for you:

  • Meet in person for a walk, a game (physical or board), coffee, lunch or other activity once or twice a month.
  • Call or text every week or so.
  • Send an email periodically to share what’s on your mind.
  • Mail a card to someone who’s celebrating a special occasion or having a rough time.
  • Share a video, magazine, book or other item you think your friend might like.

Keep in mind that connecting with friends on social media may not be enough. “Those channels are easy ways to keep in touch, but, in general, social media isn’t a substitute for ‘real life’ interactions,” Dr. Bonnie says.

Talk to your PCP or a counselor if you’d like more insight on fostering the kind of relationships that can boost your health.

Kofi Bonnie, Kofi Bonnie, DNP, MSc, RN, RPN




Kofi Bonnie, DNP, MSc, RN, RPN, is the director of Behavioral Health at PeaceHealth in Bellingham, Washington.