Debunking brain myths

This month’s myth:
Socializing becomes less important as we age. True or false?

False
Although some people may become less social as they age, this is certainly not true for the majority. In fact, remaining socially active throughout life is not only enjoyable but has many important and positive health benefits.

“People are naturally social creatures,” says Dr. Nasreen Khatri, Baycrest clinical psychologist, clinician leader of the Mood and Related Disorders Clinic. “Like other mammals we are meant to live together.”

A couple of recent studies suggest that friendships are important for our health. An American study found that having good social relationships – friends, spouse or children – may be every bit as important to a healthy life as quitting smoking, losing weight or taking certain medications.

An Australian study confirmed these same findings. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22 per cent.

“I’m not surprised,” said Dr. Khatri. “Friendships affect mood in a positive way. Not only is it fun to spend time with people you like and have things in common with, friends provide an important support system during tough times. It’s important to set up social networks and tend to them throughout life.”

Those with a wide network of friends tend to have higher self-esteem, take better care of themselves and feel that they have more control of their lives. Positive relationships add purpose and meaning to our lives.

Unfortunately, as a society, we are spending more and more of our time alone. Loneliness takes a huge toll on mental and physical health. Emotionally, it makes sense that we feel sad when we are lonely. People who are depressed are less likely to exercise and eat well, which has a direct impact on their physical health as well, explains Dr. Khatri.

Try to build time into your daily routine to stay connected with your friends. If you don’t have a large support network, develop new social connections by getting involved in various activities and groups. Feeling part of a community adds meaning to your life.

Build new social networks by:

  • joining a community centre
  • taking up a social activity such as bridge, dancing or a book club
  • doing volunteer work
  • looking into support groups in your community if you are going through a difficult time

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