Enriching Your Life Through Friendship

What sounds like the perfect Friday evening for you? Maybe you like the idea of a loud, rambunctious dinner party, playing card games or dancing to music with your close friends. Perhaps you prefer a quiet evening at home, curled up in bed with a good book and a beloved pet. Regardless of which you prefer, science has shown that everyone benefits from human connection. While everyone requires different amounts of interaction, research has found that there are numerous benefits that socializing has for both your physical and emotional health.

One of the most studied aspects of social relationships is how it affects cognitive health in older adults. Through improving your brain health, socializing reduces your risk of developing dementia and strengthens your cognitive functioning. In a 2017 study in Dublin, Ireland, adults over the age of 50 who belonged to social communities and participated in activities with others, had a healthier cognitive function. They were able to regulate their emotions better, process things more quickly, had a stronger working memory, and better verbal fluency.

By allowing you to regulate your emotions more easily, socializing can improve your mental and emotional health. Through spending time with others, you can develop a sense of belonging while feeling supported and cared about. When feeling supported and loved, you’re able to grow a better self-esteem and a greater sense of purpose, which reduces one’s risk of depression and anxiety disorders. However, be mindful that you are keeping healthy social relationships, as toxic friendships have the opposite effect, therefore increasing your risk of mental health disorders.

Through improved thinking and feeling emotionally better, socializing can help reduce stress. Chronic stress affects hormone regulation in the body, which weakens your immune system. Social engagement has been shown to boost your immune system while also boosting your physical health, especially for older adults. Through strengthening your immune system, socializing can reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and even rheumatoid arthritis. The stress of having no healthy social relationships has also been shown to contribute to stress and poor health habits. While positive social bonds, on the other hand, can help encourage a healthier lifestyle, whether that’s through an exercise buddy, motivation to get out of bed, or even maintain basic hygiene.

A 2010 clinical review of nearly 150 studies looked at information about more than 300,000 participants who were followed for an average of 7.5 years. The review found that people with strong social ties had a 50 percent better chance of a longer life, regardless of age, sex, or health, compared to those with weaker ties. Additionally, the 2005 Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging found the people with the most friends typically outlived those with the fewest by 22 percent.

While with the current climate, it may be difficult to see current friends and make new ones. With current friendships, be sure that you are reaching out, whether that be through a message, phone call, or video call. Being able to connect with friends while isolated is essential. Making new friends, however, can feel daunting or even impossible, especially if your area is still under lockdown. Joining virtual clubs or communities on social media to find people with similar interests or hobbies can be a simple way to connect with others from the comfort of your home.

While making sure that you are taking care of your body’s physical needs, you must keep in mind your social needs. Having healthy social relationships allows you to have not only an overall healthier life but a longer one. Regardless of how you go about connecting with other people or who you choose to connect with, remember to make sure it’s in a way that’s enjoyable to you. So be sure to start connecting today.

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