Talking to others, getting out and about, sharing experiences—these types of social interactions can not only enrich our lives, they can also engage our brains. Socializing typically correlates to being part of a more stimulating environment and participating in more leisure, physical and mental activities. The relationship of leisure activities or social interactions to diminished risk for dementia suggests several mechanisms at work, including reduced stress and enhanced intellectual stimulation. These social ties may help protect the brain by building up a cognitive reserve to compensate for lost brain cells or connections.
A few decades ago, Barbra Streisand became famous singing, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world,” but the reality is, we all need people, and research studies increasingly prove it.
Consider these findings about the importance of socialization:
Make physical exercise a group exercise. Taking a daily walk is good for your body and brain, and taking a walk with a friend may compound your sense of well-being. It is much easier to get your daily exercise if you do something you enjoy with someone you enjoy.
Put multiple minds together for brain aerobics. Doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku is generally a solitary effort, but lots of brain-building activities can be done with others. Board games like Scrabble, Upwords, Trivial Pursuit and Smart Mouth, for example, are fun precisely because they involve combining the power of multiple minds.
Share a meal. Eating a healthy diet is important, and, yet, perhaps the greatest aid to digestion is the company of others.
Enroll in a special interest group. Groups abound for virtually every interest, whether it’s playing bridge or ballroom dancing. Even if the normally solitary act of reading a book is your way of relaxing, consider joining a book club to share thoughts and socialize. Also contemplate not just what you enjoy, but what you need. Many people find that a support group for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease, for example, provides the unique camaraderie of people who truly understand.
Join an online group. If it’s difficult to get out and about because you live in a rural area, have health problems of your own or are caring for a loved one, the virtual world can open endless new opportunities.
Be a friend. Many people need the non-judgmental listening that best friends can provide. Lend your ear to old and new friends alike.
Volunteer. It’s possible to overcome your own troubles by helping others with their problems. Volunteer for a cause you believe in.
Socialization gives us a sense of belonging, of being part of a community—even if it’s a community of only three or four people. With community comes confidence: With confidence comes self-esteem and an increased sense of well-being. But the greatest benefit of socialization is that people who share experiences are much more likely to laugh together, and laughter may be the best boon to longevity we have.