Last Tuesday, when I was working in my writer’s studio (AKA Starbuck’s), an old friend told me about a talk-show segment she had seen. “It was about how girlfriends are good for our health,” she said. “They actually lower our blood pressure and extend our lives.”
Of course, those of us blessed with fantastic friends already understand their virtues. In fact, that’s why Carol and I started taking vacations together, and later decided to write a book about girlfriend getaways.
Nevertheless, I searched the internet for the study Eileen mentioned. I found a recent blog post by Oprah’s “Dr. Oz” and Dr. Michael F. Roizen, which states that according to a new study of 300,000 people, those with good friends have a 50 percent chance of living longer than those without.
I ran across several articles and postings about the ten-year “Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging,” which found that “greater networks with friends [are] protective against mortality.” That study inspired a 2008 article by Tamara Hanson, in which Dianne Ruth, PhD, says, “Having a friend is what keeps us sane, makes us laugh and allows us to be who we need to be. We empower each other and appreciate each other when no one else will.”
Going one step further, Hanson refers to a UCLA study by Dr. Laura Cousino Klein and Dr. Shelley Taylor, which explains that when women are stressed, their bodies release the calming hormone Oxytocin. And when stressed women spend time with kids or girlfriends, their bodies release even more Oxytocin.
“The consistent message of these studies is that friends make your life better,” says Karen A. Roberto, director of the center for gerontology at Virginia Tech, in a 2009 New York Times article by Tara Parker-Pope.
Throughout my roller-coast ride of a life (whose isn’t?), I have found Roberto’s assessment consistently true. I truly treasure my friends, and often rely on their wit, wisdom and calming effects. And although I have a wonderful husband and four fabulous kids—who are terrific travel companions–some of my most memorable trips (biking through Switzerland, sailing around the Virgin Islands, partying at Venice’s Carnevale, singing karaoke in Vegas, cooking in Bologna and surfing in Hawaii) have been with girlfriends. Here’s why:
Girlfriends take care of themselves. When women travel with their families, they usually return home exhausted. Family vacations provide a break from paid jobs, but not from motherhood. While away, we still attend to the family’s needs (are the kids hungry, tired, bored or at each other’s throats?), but without the breaks we get at home. Good girlfriends know what to eat when they’re hungry, how to dress for the weather and when to give us space.
Girlfriends tell you the truth. On getaways together, girlfriends have uninterrupted time for deep conversation. Reality checks are par for the course: we avail ourselves to honest feedback about our lives. What’s more, a true girlfriend will tell you when an outfit makes your butt look too big, a green sweater makes you look sallow or your shoes are outdated.
Girlfriends let you be yourself. A resounding theme among the women Carol and I have interviewed for our book is that on trips with good friends, they remember who they really are. We slide back into personalities formed before we took on the mantle of motherhood. We relax, knowing that our friends chose us for who we were, not for what we or our partners have achieved, how talented our kids are or how well we’re aging,
So, let’s all remember to make time for girlfriend getaways. The experts say our lives depend on it.
– Linda Williams Rorem, 17 Jan. 2011