Although we may not always feel like being social, it is good for us to interact with other people. Humans are relational, and it is this relational part of us that makes socializing so important when it comes to health. One study demonstrated that the rate of cognitive decline in social seniors was 70% slower than that of their non-social peers. In other words, an active social life appears to be extremely healthy for our brains.
At the beginning of the study period, 1,138 elderly participants had no signs of dementia. After five years, researchers were unsure as to whether or not cognitive impairment caused some social isolation or whether social isolation caused the dementia.
The Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago took a closer look at the activity level of seniors for up to 14 years. Such things as visits from friends, participation in clubs and groups, volunteer time, religious activity and sporting event participation were recorded in a questionnaire. Participants social activity was translated into a numerical score. What researchers found was that every point on the social scale equated to a 47% drop in the decline of cognitive function. In addition, a one point increase in sociability reduced the chance of participants becoming physically disabled by 43%.
The study of isolation is nothing new. For years, it has been known that living alone with very little interaction can be extremely dangerous to our health. In fact, people who live isolated from others double their risk of early death. Being active socially also reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. Even though, we may think that our relationships are stressful at times, they really do seem to be beneficial to our health. In fact, having close friends and family reduces the risk of early death more than exercise or maintaining a healthy weight. Human interaction truly is important.
Socializing is an excellent way to release stress. Even the touch of a loved one can lower our blood pressure and calm our nerves. While there are certainly other factors for developing dementia, the less social contact one has, the more likely they are to develop cardiovascular disease, obesity, some cancers, addiction and mental illness.