Social Connection

Helen Keller once said in an interview that she “would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than walk alone in the light.”

Although her circumstances were exceptional, the sentiment is nearly universal. The need for human connection and companionship drives us all—and research is showing that it has a profound effect on both our physical and mental health. Here are just five ways that maintaining your social connections can help improve your quality of living:

Companionship is the true fountain of youth.

There’s no doubt about it—staying connected socially improves your overall physical health. Regardless of your age, there is a relationship between social isolation and physical health. A meta-analytic review of 148 studies investigated the connection between social relationships and mortality, and found that those with good relationships had a 50 per cent increased likelihood of survival. Friendship may even lengthen our lives. In fact, another study demonstrated that a lack of social connection is, incredibly, a greater detriment to health than smoking.

A conversation a day keeps the doctor away.

Having daily conversations is particularly important as you age. One study of seniors found that social interactions reduced the likelihood of another kind of interaction—that with their family doctor or nurse. This may be because staying social reduces your risk of obesity and heart attacks, as well as lowers your blood pressure. It doesn’t hurt that taking the time to speak with someone may be the easiest prescription to fill—and in the case of Keeping Connected, we’re just a phone call away.

Want to stay sharp as a tack?

Staying socially connected reduces the effects of aging on cognitive abilities. Just like doing crossword puzzles, talking to friends is like exercise for your brain. Over a 12-year period, researchers at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Centre in Chicago followed 1,100 seniors without dementia. They found that those with higher or frequent social activity levels had a rate of cognitive decline that was 70 per cent less than people who had low social activity. There’s also some evidence that social activity may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Staying socially connected may mean staying independent longer.

Social seniors have lower levels of physical disability (up to 43 per cent less), which suggests they may be able to care for themselves longer. In another study of individuals over 65 in three European countries, those with social ties weren’t only able to more readily undertake normal daily living activities—they also recovered more quickly after injury or trauma.

A smile is contagious.

Maybe it goes without saying that spending time with others makes you happier. But the profound effect your relationships have on mental health can’t be underestimated. A 2004 study in Finland of over 2000 people found that social support strengthened mental health in all respondents. Those with stronger networks have lower levels of anxiety and depression, improved empathy, and higher self-esteem. This, in turn, makes other people more likely to trust you and want to connect with you, creating a positive feedback loop.