The societies we’re born into and the societies we create in our lives shape who we are as people. Communication is so important to us as a species that we constantly work to develop new ways to communicate. It started with carving on rocks, moved to pen and paper, telephone, internet, and now we have smart phones that practically communicate for us. We are comforted by the notion that somewhere out there someone is experiencing what we’re experiencing and sharing those experiences makes us feel good. Friendships are born through these shared experiences and those friends help us de-stress, make us laugh, motivate us to be our best selves.
Even self-proclaimed introverts enjoy social interaction from time to time. As a species, we need social interaction if we’re to survive. According to a study published in Nature, our ancestors figured out they needed to be more social in order to hunt more safely in groups and to collaborate on crucial milestones that helped us evolve. We are innately compassionate, which makes it easier for us to care and share with our fellow man and to find possible mates to carry on the species. Now that we’re a more modern species, how does social interaction benefit our health?
According to psychologist, Susan Pinker, direct contact with other people triggers our nervous system to release a cocktail of neurotransmitters that regulate our response to stress and anxiety. In other words, when we have social interaction, it helps us become more resilient to stress.
Positive social interactions, such as shaking hands, laughing, and stimulating conversation releases oxytocin, which reduces cortisol and lowers our stress. Social interaction is also key to positive cognitive development. Young children learn how to perform tasks and interact with one another based on the social interactions they have. In senior citizens, having social interaction keeps the brain healthy and alive and slows down mental decline. Unfortunately for many seniors, factors in their lives such as health or access to transportation keep them from being as social as they used to be and they become more isolated with age.
A study published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association looked at the how social interaction benefited people with dementia. Researchers from Johns Hopkins and Duke Universities studied sets of male twins over 28 years to look for predictors of dementia. The twins that had more social interaction and cognitive activity in middle age experienced less signs of dementia as they aged. Social activities were strongly linked to a lower risk of cognitive decline. This study leads us to believe that promoting cognitive activities such as reading or doing puzzles in conjunction with social activities could help prevent or delay the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
If being more social is a struggle for you, and you’re looking for ways to get out there and stimulate your brain, we have some tips:
Scientists are realizing our brains need more stimulation than the food we eat, the oxygen we breath and the water we drink. We need other people. Normal brain function thrives with social interaction. Our brains are built on a complex web of social interactions with family, friends, coworkers, strangers and beyond. We think about others, talk about others, interact with others, judge their intentions, read their moods and process millions of bits of information about them on a daily basis. Social interaction doesn’t just make us happier, but it keeps our brain healthy and functioning. So if you needed a reason for your girls’ night out or your weekly bowling game with the guys, this is it.
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