The Hard Facts: This Is Your Brain on Friends

“According to research conducted at Rush University Medical Center, frequent social activity may help to prevent or delay cognitive decline in old age. … On average, those who had the highest levels of social activity (the 90th percentile) experienced only one quarter of the rate of cognitive decline experienced by the least socially active individuals.” (“Higher Levels of Social Activity Decrease the Risk of Cognitive Decline,” Science Daily 4/26/2011)

You may be tired by now of hearing all the health benefits of having a full social circle. Every time new research to that effect is published, you see it here. It’s getting old, you might be thinking. Tell us something we don’t know.

That said, I’ll probably never stop touting this research. Because every time new research comes to light, I remember that for all our analysis and over-analysis about friendships—who is putting in the effort? Is it too late to attempt friendship? Why is she giving me ‘tude?—the truth is that we just need to surround ourselves with people. We have to calm down with the relationship neuroses (believe me, I’ve been plagued with all kinds of friendship anxieties) and just do it. It’s like exercise. You may not like it, but you’ve got to do it. (And you’ll probably like it more than the treadmill. For real.)

For me, getting out there meant launching a full-fledged search. I’m a pretty all-or-nothing gal. For you it might be less intense.  It doesn’t need to be a big thing. You don’t even need to veer out of your comfort zone. If you find picking up ladies at the grocery store uncomfortable (yes, I did that), sign up for a class. If you’d rather rip your arm off than perform with an improv group (yup, did that too), start a book club. If online friending makes you nervous (check), try simply accepting all the invitations that come your way, no matter how not-in-the-mood you are.

I know this is easier said than done. There is all kind of awkwardness and embarrassment and reverting back to your nine-year-old self involved with making friends as an adult. But every time I read that having friends will improve my chances of surviving breast cancer, or less likely to suffer dimensia (both of which are in my family), I find it pretty unbelievable.

The “why” of all this research remains to be seen. “According to [one researcher], one possibility is that ‘social activity challenges older adults to participate in complex interpersonal exchanges, which could promote or main efficient neural networks in a case of ‘use it or lose it.’”

For us non-scientists, the why is less important than the facts: This cognitive decline info is just the latest in a long line of health benefits that come from making friends.

So go out there, make friends, share some girl talk and sing into a wine bottle at an impromptu dance party once in a while. It’s good for you.

1 Comment

Filed under The Hard Facts, The Search

One response to “The Hard Facts: This Is Your Brain on Friends

  1. Lorrie Paige

    More importantly, I think we at least need acquaintances, which are made a heckuva lot easier without the responsibility and time-consumption of friendship.

    If we really need to talk to someone, there’s always an acquaintance to talk to, even the employees at your favorite hangout or “mom and pop” store.

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