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Hanging out with friends vital to preventing disease and dementia

While we eat well and exercise to prevent disease, studies show one of the best ways to stay healthy is to hang out with friends. Studies have linked socialization with better  heart health, warding off  depression, and preventing  memory loss.

In fact, research shows  social isolation  carries the same health risks as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity, and that regular social interaction can improve your odds of survival by 50 percent.

More people than ever  live alone  today, almost one third of the US population. This means people have to make an effort to socialize.

And if you think all those hours on  Facebook  are a substitute for in-person socialization, think again. Although social media is great for connections, online conversations tend to center around what's "cool" or socially relevant, while in-person conversations go more in depth into sharing life experiences. Important social cues such as body language, facial expressions, and vocal inflections also go missing online.

Having friends prevents dementia

The more socially active people are the lower their risk for cognitive decline and  dementia, especially if they have high risk factors, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

Although researchers don't understand exactly how socialization prevents dementia, they have several ideas. Friends and family may offer support in seeking health treatment when necessary. A rich social life also exercises the brain and fosters connections between neurons, which is vital to preventing cognitive decline and dementia. Social activity also inhibits chronic  stress   a notorious destroyer of brain function.

Bad socialization is worse than no socialization

Although studies show regular social interaction is good for health, negative and  stressful relationships  are not good for health. Research shows being in a strained, unsupportive marriage carries a higher risk of depression than being single. One study showed that people in  stressful marriages  healed from wounds more slowly than those in happy relationships. Women seem to be more negatively impacted by a bad relationship than men.

How to cultivate a healthy social life

Staying socially active doesn't come naturally to everyone. If you're interested in improving your health and preserving your brain function, here are some tips to incorporate regular  social activity  into your life:

  • Don't wait for others to call or invite you out. Pick up the phone and schedule time with friends.
      
  • Volunteer. This can make a difference in other people's lives and provide you with healthy social interaction.
      
  • Get a job. If you don't work or work at home, spending some time working out of the home can expand your social life.
      
  • Find groups of people with similar interests or hobbies through the local paper or  meetup.com.
      
  • Take some classes. Learning new things not only provides healthy brain stimulation but also exposes you to more people with similar interests.
      

Meet the Author

Kristien Boyle DOM, AP (FL), LAc (SC)
Kristien Boyle DOM, AP (FL), LAc (SC)

Dr. Boyle D.O.M. (FL) is the founder of the Holistic Wellness Center of the Carolinas where he is the Director of Functional Medicine. He holds a Diplomate in Oriental Medicine and is acupuncture physician and primary care physician in the state of Florida. His post-graduate focus has been in the fields of functional neurology, functional immunology, and functional endocrinology.

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