THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF SOCIALIZING
While history may forever tout the legend of the 'Lone Ranger', a solid body of research actually suggests that maintaining good social connections can benefit your mental health. Plus, at last check, the population of the planet was hovering around 7 billion, so while the odds of complete solitude are not very much in your favor, the opportunty to socialize is.
Ample scientific evidence supports the idea that people who have meaningful relationships with family and friends tend to have fewer health problems and even live longer. Research conducted by Duke University Medical Center revealed that strong social ties play a role in longevity. Researchers noted that among patients with coronary artery disease, mortality rates were more than double for those who were socially isolated.
Of particular interest are both the biological and behavioral factors that explain the health benefits of socialization. Scientists have found that connecting with others can help to relieve stress - taking pressure off of coronary arteries and immune function. Additional research appears to show that engaging in good relationships may stimulate the release of stress-reducing hormones.
In another study published by The University of Michigan, researchers found that participants who engaged in brief 10 minute conversations as a means get to know someone showed improvement in their cognitive function when completing common tasks. Speaking to the results of the study, psychologist Oscar Ybarra from the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan reported that "simply talking to other people, the way you do when you're making friends, can provide mental benefits."
THE DANGER OF SOCIAL ISOLATION
Just as socializing can have positive health outcomes, avoiding connecting with others can be significantly detrimental. Research reveals that social isolation can carry the same level of risk for illness or early death as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking. When we fail to interact socially over extended periods, our bodies experience more stress and inflammation - both of which negatively affect every system in the body - including the brain.
A continual deficit in social interaction can also affect our mental health. The emotional support that we get from interacting with others can help to reduce the negative effects of stress and help us to feel like we have more purpose in life. A study published by the American Journal of Public Health found that older women who had significant social networks were 26% less likely to develop dementia.
These positive effects can start early and permeate every aspect of our lives. Results from a 20-year longitudinal study revealed a link between the ability to develop social skills in kindergarten and well-being later in life. Children who showed a propensity for sharing and positive social integration were more likely to pursue higher education and maintain stable employment. Those who lacked social skills were more likely to encounter negative circumstances including substance abuse and legal issues.
The importance of being socially connected cannot be understated. The positive physical and mental health benefits are considerable including reduced stress and better cardiovascular health. It's incredible that something as simple as friendship can make such an impact on positive life outcomes. If you're seeking a comprehensive healthy lifestyle, you'll want to include more than just a good diet and exercise- make time to connect!