Be Social This Holiday Season – It’s Good for You!
For many people, the holidays mean time spent in the company of family and friends. Whether you are reconnecting at a family meal, attending a community event, or sharing a fun holiday experience with friends, did you know that this time of togetherness isn’t just socially rewarding, but it can boost your brain health?
The link between socialization and brain health has been the subject of many scientific studies. In fact, social interaction is such an important factor in the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle that the Cleveland Clinic lists it as one of its “Six Pillars of Brain Health.” Socialization challenges the brain and keeps it active, which in turn promotes motor skills and improves overall cognitive health.
Neurologist Dr. Deborah Boland of Be Mobile Neurology emphasizes the need for a fulfilling social life with her patients, as they work to optimize brain health. While this is one of her favorite areas to discuss, she believes that it is often overlooked when it comes to cognitive health. Avoiding isolation by staying connected to your community, developing hobbies, volunteering, and interacting with friends and family makes a real difference in quality of life. Dr. Boland also speaks on this topic at support groups and community organizations across Tampa Bay – and you can watch her on YouTube here.
In addition to keeping neural pathways active, being social actually has been shown to protect the brain. Some research has suggested that social interaction can predict cognitive decline and dementia, while other studies tie socialization to improved memory.
Recent research by Andrew Sommerlad, Ph.D., from the Division of Psychiatry at University College London (UCL), examined the link between social contact and dementia in greater depth. The study followed participants over a 28-year period and found significant evidence that frequent social activity at age 60 correlated with lower dementia risk.
Similarly, a California study published by the American Journal of Public Health took a closer look at whether social networks reduced the incidence of dementia among elderly women. They reported that women with large social networks reduced their risk of dementia by 26 percent, and those who had daily social contact reduced their risk by almost half.
As the years pass, family relationships – especially with spouses and adult children – offer more support and become more important to maintaining your well-being. It’s not surprising that research has confirmed that happy marriages and other strong long-term relationships have significant protective effects against age-related cognitive impairment.
Because we often rely more on family members as we age, social circles tend to naturally shrink. However, there are still many opportunities to become involved in the community and to grow your social network. Engaging in volunteer activities, through the church or local nonprofit organizations, can put your talents to work, nurture your sense of purpose, and introduce you to new people. In fact, even casual conversations with neighbors and acquaintances can have a positive impact on your health. An active social network not only provides you with an ample support system, but it offers the benefits of reducing stress, combating depression, and enhancing intellectual stimulation. Socialization also promotes healthy behaviors, like increased physical activity.
Research indicates that reciprocity in relationships or, more simply put, the giving and receiving of support, also plays a key role in your well-being. Besides the size of your social network, the quality of the relationships makes a difference. In other words, it’s just as critical to give support to your friends and family as it is to get it. If there is no reciprocity, your health may decline, causing issues with sleep and a higher risk of depression. The healthier the connections you have with others, the healthier you will be.
So, make sure to spend time with others, engage in stimulating conversation, and stay connected to family and friends. If you’re looking for a reason to go to a holiday party, here it is. Socializing isn’t just a good time — it’s good for your brain!