Every so often I receive one of those emails that are passed from woman to woman about the importance of girlfriends. They are so poetic and poignant. I love them. I know there is a long routing list of which I am one of dozens, but I like being included. Friends are such a cherished part of my life and the words expressed in the content of the passages resonate to my core. We ladies would be lost without our girlfriends!

Friends help up pick up the pieces after an ugly (or not so ugly) break-up, they are our support when our children confuse us, a sounding board for just about every situation that comes across our path and if that weren’t enough they are our most trusted fashion advisors. My best friend Sue often reminds me, “friends tell us what we need to hear not what we want to hear.” She never passes judgment, always a sympathetic ear and tells me like it is.

The other day I was having lunch with one of my other best friends, my 90-year-old mom.  I asked her what brought her the most happiness in her life. Without a second thought, she proclaimed,  “my friends! They are always there for me. They help me through thick and thin, I don’t know where I’d be without them.”

No doubt friends are the key to a fulfilling life. We’ve known it forever.  Now researchers are finding another reason to keep friends close.  There is scientific evidence that friendships and being a part of a social network can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Staying in touch with friends can keep depression at bay and keep us young. A Harvard Nurses Health Study found that the more friends a woman had the less likely they were to be physically incapacitated, as they grew older.

Why do women love sharing, discussing and dissecting so much? It appears that sharing with friends is hard wired in our brains. Stress from jobs, challenging relationships and even traffic can trigger the release of cortisol, a hormone which increases blood pressure, blood sugar and reduces immune responses. Luckily, our brains have a built in mechanism to counter the harmful affects of cortisol, called oxytocin. Intense pressure for women triggers the release of oxytocin, or the so called calming hormone.

A number of activities increase the output of oxytocin, including my favorite activity, exercise, along with a few other favs – yoga, massage, meditation, caring for a pet and you guessed it hanging out with friends. All these activities including companionship leads to the release of more oxytocin creating an increased sense of well being. Combine that with exercise and you’ve got a double dose of zen.  Oxytocin is a unique neurochemical, difficult to replicate synthetically, but the more we make with the above mentioned activities the stronger our body and mind responds to it.  The stress relieving aspect of friendship and fitness can play a big role in helping women stay healthy and far better than a medicine cabinet full of drugs.

Try spending at least an hour a week with your friends walking and chatting, it can lead to better health and will definitely be a ton of fun!