Socializing can provide a number of benefits to your physical and mental health. Did you know that connecting with friends may also boost your brain health and lower your risk of dementia? If you need reasons to help justify spending extra time lingering over coffee with a friend, or setting aside time in your busy schedule to connect with family, read on.

FreeImages.com/Jeff Osborn
Source: FreeImages.com/Jeff Osborn

Research shows these main benefits of having an active social life:

  1. You may live longer. People with more social support tend to live longer than those who are more isolated, and this is true even after accounting for your overall level of health.
  2. You will enjoy better physical health. Social engagement is associated with a stronger immune system, especially for older adults. This means that you are better able to fight off colds, the flu, and even some types of cancer.
  3. You will enjoy better mental health. Interacting with others boosts feelings of well-being and decreases feelings of depression. Research has shown that one sure way of improving your mood is to work on building social connections.
  4. You may even lower your risk of dementia. More recently, there has been accumulating evidence that socializing is good for your brain health. People who connect with others generally perform better on tests of memory and other cognitive skills. And, in the long run, people with active social lives are less likely to develop dementia than those who are more socially isolated.

Convinced of the benefits of socializing? If so, you may be looking for ways to boost your social engagement. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Use Skype or Facetime to catch up with family and friends from a distance.
  • Walk through your neighborhood and make a point of stopping to say hello to people you meet.
  • Babysit your grandkids or help them with homework.
  • Sign up for a class at your local recreation center, library, or university.
  • Attend religious services at your church, synagogue, or temple.
  • Sing in a choir or play music in a group.
  • Volunteer at your favorite charity organization.
  • Visit a museum with a friend and chat about what you see.
  • Participate in a neighborhood or community group.
  • Play a group sport like lawn bowling, golf, or croquet.
  • Have a friend or family member over for coffee or tea.
  • Play cards or board games with others.
  • Exercise with a friend by walking, swimming, or going to the gym together.

You may notice that many of these activities also provide cognitive engagement or physical exercise – or even both. In previous postings, we shared research about the additional benefits to brain health that come along with cognitive and physical activities. So, it’s a great idea to choose social activities that also physically and cognitively engaging.

If you have MCI, you may find that changes in your memory make it more difficult to learn new activities, names, and routines. These can also make it more difficult for you to comfortably interact with others. If so, it may help to connect with people through activities that are familiar to you. It may also be easier to focus on the here and now, by chatting about the things that you are doing together, rather than the past.

Regardless of how you go about connecting with others, remember that it should be in a way that is enjoyable to you, so that you will be sure to do it often.

About the Authors

Kelly J. Murphy, Ph.D., C.Psych.

Kelly Murphy, Ph.D., is a Clinical Neuropsychologist at Baycrest and an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto.

Angela K. Troyer, Ph.D., C.Psych.

Angela Troyer, Ph.D., is the professional practice chief of psychology and the Program Director of Neuropsychology and Cognitive Health at Baycrest. She is also an assistant professor of psychology.

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