Can Being Social Lead to Better Health?

Published on Feb 23, 2017
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team

We all know that taking care of our health is important. Like many people, you probably see a doctor and take medicine to avoid sickness and to feel good. But there is something else you can do to help stay healthy and feel better—and it doesn’t cost anything. Simply put, being socially engaged is good for your health!

“But I’m always ‘connected’ online.”
It’s interesting to note that the growth of technology can make it easier for people to connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime. And it’s true that there are benefits to being active on social media. However, researchers point out that people are becoming more isolated. There are many reasons for this, including:

  • Fewer extended family members living together
  • People getting married at an older age
  • More 2-career families
  • More people living alone
  • More age-related health issues

The fact is, social isolation could be as bad for our health as smoking, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise.

What are the benefits of being socially engaged?

Social engagement can take many forms, from holiday gatherings with family to community events to spending time with friends. No matter the form, there are benefits of engaging with others. For starters, it can be fun! Studies show that people who have meaningful relationships are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer than those who don’t. In fact, data from over 300,000 people who were studied for an average of seven and one-half years show that those who have satisfying social relationships have a 50% greater chance of survival than those who don’t.

The link between being socially engaged and health

There are a number of possible links between social engagement and health.

On one level, social relationships can have an effect on behavior. For example, a spouse can have a positive impact on a partner’s health. He or she may prepare healthy foods or encourage exercise. Social ties may also lead to concern for the well-being of others. This, in turn, could make us pay more attention to our own well-being.

There may also be what researchers refer to as a psychosocial explanation. Psychosocial refers to something that involves both psychological (mental) and social aspects. In this case, it may be that people who are socially engaged may have a greater sense of purpose in life than people who are less engaged. This may lead to improved mental and physical health.

Finally, some researchers think that social engagement may work deep within the body and affect how it works. They’ve found that being socially engaged relieves harmful levels of stress that can have a negative effect on coronary arteries, insulin levels, and the immune system. Other studies show that being socially engaged may result in lower levels of a chemical in the body that affects age-related illness such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and some forms of cancer.

5 ways to get—or stay—socially engaged

Connecting with others is a low-cost way to improve your own health—and the health of those around you. Here are 5 ways you can get started:

  • Introduce yourself—Say hello to people in your neighborhood, at the grocery store, or in your apartment building. This can be the first step to forming a friendship.
  • Become a volunteer—Share your knowledge with a younger or less experienced person. Feeling useful has been linked to lower rates of depression and better functional health.
  • Phone a friend or family member—Make a point to call one person each week to stay connected.
  • Join a group—Most cities or towns have group activities for things like exercise, art or special interests. This can be a good way to meet people who like the same things as you.
  • Go online—Social media sites make it easy to reconnect with old friends or make new ones. Research has shown that having a lot of friends in your social network may make you feel more supported and could result in less stress.
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