Making friends as healthy as regular exercise and your five a day.

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stick_figure_drawing_people_leader_1600_wht_5133Making a new friend is as good for you as regular exercise.

People with a sunny outlook are more popular and have better health.

That’s according to a study reported last week in the Daily Telegraph.

It showed that optimistic people experience more positive emotions because they make more social connections which in turn improves physical health.

So positive emotions could be as important for your health as exercise and your regular fruit and vegetables.

The study, published in the journal Psychology Science, was led by positive psychology pioneer Prof Barbara Frederickson, at the University of North Carolina, and Dr Bethany Kok from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany.

They observed the physical effects of positive emotions  by studying participants’ vagal tone – the body’s control over the vagus nerve which helps to regulate heart rate among other things.

People with a high vagal tone ie more control over the vagus nerve, tend to be better at regulating their emotions. It was hypothesised that those with higher vagal tone experienced more positive emotions. The optimism arising from that should improve social connections, further increasing vagal control and thereby improving physical health in an upward spiral.

The researchers wanted to know if participants could cultivate optimism and thereby improve their chances of better health. So participants were randomly assigned to either a 6-week loving-kindness meditation (LKM) course or left on a waiting list for the course. All of them had their vagal tones assessed at the start and end of the study.

Those on the course learned how to cultivate positive feelings of love, compassion and goodwill towards themselves and others.

The results showed that those with higher vagal tone in the LKM group showed steeper emotions over the course of the study. As their positive emotions increased so did their reported social connections  which in turn led to an increase in their vagal tone. Those on the waiting list showed no change in vagal tone over the course of the study.

Prof Frederickson was reported to have said that “positive emotions may be an essential psychological nutrient that builds health, just like getting enough exercise and eating your fruit and vegetables”.

The ability to manage your emotions is an important aspect of emotional intelligence which has been posted elsewhere on this blog.

It appears that this study was carried out in a scientific way unlike an earlier report from Germany about alternatives to going to the gym  which turned out to be an urban myth.

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3 thoughts on “Making friends as healthy as regular exercise and your five a day.

    info4u2bu said:
    May 16, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Reblogged this on ulearn2bu.

    […] Making friends as healthy as regular exercise and your five a day. (bizpsycho.com) […]

    […] Making friends as healthy as regular exercise and your five a day. […]

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