Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light. -Helen Keller
It was time for our morning walk, and four-year-old Ezra was dragging. “Wait up,” he called as I strode a few steps ahead of him, toting his little brother.
“Why are you walking so fast?” he moaned a few minutes later.
“Can we turn around?” he asked when he finally trudged to the corner.
I relented and we headed toward home. Maybe Ezra was coming down with a cold or didn’t get enough sleep. I suggested we curl up on the couch and read stories.
Then our three-year-old neighbor came out of her house. Ezra bounded to her, and within moments, they were squealing and running in circles, falling down in the grass, and playing tag.
Our neighbor’s mom asked if Ezra would like to join their family on a walk to the top of a hill in our neighborhood. “Please, Mama, please, can I go,” Ezra pleaded as he lapped the yard.
I couldn’t imagine Ezra walking a mile and then climbing a steep hill after I’d nearly had to drag him to the corner. But I could hardly say no.
Forty-five minutes later, my neighbors returned and reported that Ezra and his friend had run nearly the entire way to the hill and back.
It was an awe-inspiring lesson in the power of friendship, which Ezra teaches me again and again.
At the mention of one of his friends, Ezra perks up. In the presence of his friends, pain evaporates. Hunger diminishes. Tiredness morphs into boundless energy.
So, a few days after Ezra’s hill climb, I wasn’t surprised to read about a study finding that mice paired with a friend were able to withstand much higher levels of neuropathic pain than those who were socially isolated.
That’s not the only study illuminating the power of friendship. According to a 2009 New York Times article, “a 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends.” And “Harvard researchers reported that strong social ties could promote brain health as we age.”
The article goes on to list multiple other studies showing that people with strong friendships tend to get fewer colds, have better odds during breast cancer treatment, and be less likely to suffer a fatal heart attack. And it even spells out what was likely happening with Ezra’s sudden hill-climbing prowess:
“researchers studied 34 students at the University of Virginia, taking them to the base of a steep hill and fitting them with a weighted backpack. They were then asked to estimate the steepness of the hill. Some participants stood next to friends during the exercise, while others were alone.
The students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the steepness of the hill. And the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared.
So next time you’re feeling crummy — or even better, when you’re feeling great — don’t forget to cultivate one of nature’s most powerful healers: your friendships.
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