Does Social Interaction impact our brain health?

Researchers have outlined a healthy diet, cardiovascular exercise,  and quality sleep as methods of preventing Alzheimer’s disease. But what about socializing; can social interactions prevent dementia?

The short answer is YES! Staying socially connected helps facilitate and preserves cognitive function. Social interactions are like mental exercises as they require our brains to work and form connections.

In one study, "social interaction" included activities like reading the newspaper, trying new things, having an active approach to life and maintaining an active social life. When I think of socializing, my mind conjures memories of fun nights with friends, or Sunday dinner with the family all gathered around the table.

Being connected to others socially is widely-considered a fundamental human need. Just as every human requires food and water to develop, function and thrive, we require connection and human contact—it is crucial to both well-being and survival.

The importance of social interaction is not to be underestimated. According to Mark Robinson, the chief officer of the non-profit Age UK Barnet, “Loneliness is proven to be worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” Robinson said. Extended feelings of loneliness can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic inflammation and even dementia. It strikes people regardless of age, gender or situation in life.                                                         

Unfortunately, loneliness is a sad reality of modern life with as many as 1 in 4 elderly Canadians reporting feeling lonely. One of the most common causes of loneliness is social isolation, which occurs when an individual has a restricted social network and limited social contact.          

One recent study found that people who have more support in their lives or a stronger social network, as evidenced by their social environment, have a lower chance of developing memory-loss symptoms. Social activities can also help people reduce stress and anxiety, as well as boost mood and keep relationships strong, which is what ultimately leads to lower blood pressure levels. 

If you are unsure where to start, ask yourself “what interests me?”. Be open to new experiences, including joining a group or club. Maintain old friendships and make new ones. Stay social through work, volunteer activities, travel, hobbies, family and friends.

Here are some great tips on how to cultivate social interactions to keep you mentally sharp.