7 reasons why Camp friendships may be vital for your child’s health

I use this blog to write a lot about the powerful friendships our campers, counselors and camp parents form in our community. Yesterday I wrote about the more than a dozen great photos of K&E camp friends hanging out together that I received in just the past week. And as I looked at each image I was struck by the incredible positive energy radiating from everyone’s faces. These weren’t just aquaintences posing for a selfie — these were people of all ages who feel an intense connection to one another, and who find that being together makes their lives more fulfilling. These camp friendships created at our brother-sister summer camp mean so much to us all.  

RELATED: Our #1 priority is helping you make camp friendships that will last the rest of your life

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Photos of our campers and counselors hanging out just this past week

It got me wondering if there were any medical studies on the impact of deep friendships on people’s health. It turns out there’s some pretty compelling data out there that friendships are a key component of long-term health. Simultaneously, there’s a growing body of social science research that is concerned with the state of friendship in our society. While our online social networks may be increasing, our overall isolation from face-to-face interactions with people we care about is in sharp decline. Americans have fewer non-virtual social connections than they did 10 or 20 years ago, and the number of friends that they feel they can truly trust is way down as well. We spend less time with our extended family members, too. This increase in social isolation may be a factor in our nation’s declining health. 

The good news is that there is one major antidote to all of this: overnight camp, and in particular, overnight camps where forming lasting friendships are the foundation of the experience. Researcher Stephanie Pappas compiled a list of reasons science has found that having strong friendships can improve your duration and quality of life. It further reinforces our anecdotal observations that making camp friends at a young age is a key component to a happy, fulfilling life!

1. Friends may extend your life – People who have strong social relationships are less likely to die prematurely than people who are isolated. In fact, according to a 2010 review of research, the effect of social ties on life span is twice as strong as that of exercising, and equivalent to that of quitting smoking.

2. Your pals make you generally healthier – Scientists at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill compared the biological statistics of people who reported being isolated with those who reported having lots of friends across their life span. Using four large studies of hundreds to thousands of people each, ages 12 to 91, the researchers compared biomarkers such as blood pressure, body mass index, waist circumference and levels of the inflammation marker C-reactive protein.They found that these measures of health were worse in people who also had weaker social ties, reporting their work in January 2015 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For example, among the people in the study who were in old age, a lack of social connections more than doubled the risk of high blood pressure (raising it by 124 percent). For comparison, having diabetes raised the risk of high blood pressure by much less (70 percent).

3. Friendships might help keep your mind sharp – Having friends who make you feel like you belong may be a key for better physical health. A 2012 study found that older people’s dementia risk increased with their feelings of loneliness.

4. Friends influence us (for better or worse) – Headlines around the world announced that Obesity is contagious after a 2007 study that found that when one person packed on extra pounds, his or her friends were more likely to become obese, too. But there was an overlooked bright side to the research, which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. Thinness spreads like social wildfire, too.

The researchers pulled data from a large health study, the Framingham Heart Study. It followed people over time, allowing researchers to draw causal inferences. If one person became obese over the course of the study, they found that friends of that person were 57 percent more likely to become obese, too. But the converse was also true, study researcher James Fowler, a professor of global public health at the University of California, San Diego, noted in a statement. People also take cues from their friends who exercise or eat well to lose weight, as a separate 2011 study confirmed.

5. Your BFFs can help you through tough stuff – A major study published in the journal The Lancet in 1989 found that women with breast cancer who were randomly assigned to attend support groups with other cancer patients reported better quality of life and lived longer, compared with women in a control group who were not assigned to such support groups.

6. Friends can help you cope with rejection – A 2011 study on fourth-graders found that having friends helped kids cope with the stress of being picked on or rejected by other classmates. The researchers measured cortisol, a stress hormone, in their study participants’ saliva and found that being excluded by their peers raised the kids’ cortisol levels, probably indicating chronic stress. (Getting picked on didn’t raise cortisol levels, the researchers reported in the journal Child Development, suggesting that getting left out may hurt more than getting attention in a negative way.)

But the cortisol increase that came with being excluded was less pronounced in kids who had more friendships or closer friendships, compared with those who had few or low-quality friendships.

7. Friendships can last a lifetime – In one study, researchers followed college friends beginning in 1983, asking them about their friendship and sense of closeness. They found that physical distance didn’t necessarily track with the emotional closeness of a friendship over decades. Phones and email still kept friends in touch two decades later, the researchers found, especially those who had been friends longer in college and those who had similar interests when they became friends.

RELATED: Camp Kenwood for Boys is a Brotherhood for Life

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Happy Camp friends on vacation together

RELATED: Camp Evergreen for Girls is a Sisterhood for Life

So with all of these incredible health outcomes that can come from making friends, I invite you to come learn how and why the friendships that we develop at our summer camp in NH are so powerful and long-lasting. 

Learn why Kenwood and Evergreen friendships last a lifetime

Camps Kenwood and Evergreen is a brother-sister overnight camp in NH for boys and girls ages 7-15.