Whether you consider yourself an extrovert or an introvert, from time to time we all crave some kind of social interaction. As humans, we’re considered to be social beings and have spent millions of years in one type of societal setting or another.
While there are differing theories as to why exactly we’re social beings, the fact remains that we are – and a growing body of research shows that being social helps us in many different ways.
Three ways being social is beneficial to our health and wellbeing:
- Live Longer Studies have found a link between loneliness and early death. One study, in particular, found that feeling lonely increases a person’s risk of dying by 26%. Furthermore, social isolation increased that risk to 29%, and living alone caused it to jump to 32%. Making these findings even more interesting is the subjectivity involved. The study notes that simply feeling lonely (even when a person has many social connections) can be damaging, but so is objective loneliness, like living alone or in isolation. Furthermore, areas where people live to extreme old age across the globe (sometimes referred to as Blue Zones), may differ culturally in many ways, but they all have one thing in common – strong social ties. Whether it be family, friends, or neighbors, these cultures placed high importance on togetherness.
- Be Physically Healthier While researchers haven’t come up with one conclusive reason why, but studies show that having strong social ties helps keep people healthier than individuals without those ties. One explanation for this is the element of accountability. Being around others when we eat, drink, and engage in hobbies could help keep us “on-track” versus doing these activities alone. Studies have also shown that exercising in groups can yield better results, both physically and mentally, than exercising alone. Research has also suggested that healthy habits spread through social networks, making it more difficult to maintain an unhealthy lifestyle among friends.
- Stave off Cognitive Decline and Mental Illness As we age, our brains naturally start to experience a degree of cognitive decline. But what science has now shown is that we can intervene with this progression and keep our brains sharp well into old age. One way to do this is to create social ties. One study compared “average” middle-aged individuals with “SuperAgers” – people in their 80s but who have the mental stamina of most people in their 50s or 60s. They found that SuperAgers had a significantly higher “measure of social relations” than the control group, and they put greater emphasis on positive social relationships. Higher levels of loneliness have also been linked to depression, anxiety, and stress – all of which can negatively affect the brain.
If you’d like to improve your social life, consider looking for volunteer opportunities, joining or starting a club, or going to an exercise class a few days a week. It may take some time to form new friendships, but if you’re doing something you enjoy, you’ll find like-minded people there too.
Cohut, Maria. (2018, February 23). “What are the health benefits of being social?” Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321019.php
Sandoiu, Ana. (2017, November 5). “Having close friends may stave off mental decline.” Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319978.php
“Why Personal Relationships Are Important.” Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing, www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/why-personal-relationships-are-important.
Worland, Justin. (2015, March 18). “Why Loneliness May Be the Next Big Public-Health Issue.” Retrieved from http://time.com/3747784/loneliness-mortality/