According to a 2004 study, over 25% of Americans feel like they have no one to confide in. Loneliness can have a physical and mental impact on our lives, but so can friendships. “Our relationships can have a physical impact as well as emotional,” explains associate psychology professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad.
A coffee break with friends can have unseen benefits. It can relieve stress, strengthen your immune system, and even assuage physical pain. After you learn these scientific benefits of socializing, you’ll want to call up a friend.
It Can Relieve Physical Pain
People with chronic pain may feel physically better after socializing. During one study, scientists at the University of Oxford asked people to lean against the wall uncomfortably. People with a larger group of friends or more active social life could tolerate the pain for longer than those who weren’t socially active.
Why does this happen? According to researchers, socializing releases endorphins, the body’s “feel-good” hormones. These chemicals essentially trick the brain into focusing more on feeling good than on feeling bad. Even sitting next to a friend could alleviate pain in some people.
Healthy Relationships Equal Healthy Habits
Social people are more likely to develop healthy habits, which can help them live longer. The director of Harvard’s Center for Population and Development Studies, Lisa Berkman, ran studies that link socializing to good habits. For instance, social life in Italy leads to people walking more together and cooking together.
Of course, these benefits stem from positive relationships. When a friend engages in healthy habits, another friend is likely to join them. On the flip-side, isolated people are more likely to engage in unhealthy habits such as substance abuse.
It Promotes Brain Health
Socializing can promote cognitive function, which is a human’s ability to absorb and process information. Advanced cognitive function can help people solve puzzles and focus on complex problems. During a 2018 study, socializing maintained cognitive ability among older adults in Korea.
According to Aging in Asia: Findings From New and Emerging Data Initiatives, the best thing you can do is play games with friends. Doing so will force your brain to solve problems while engaging socially. Talking to others is like a mental exercise that keeps your brain sharp.
People Who Socialize Live Longer
Several studies show that people who socialize may live longer. Research in the American Journal of Epidemiology observed 7,000 people over nine years. People who felt disconnected from others were three times more likely to die within that span.
Another study in The New England Journal of Medicine analyzed over 2,000 people who suffered from a heart attack. Patients with strong social connections had a lower risk of dying. Researchers explain that social isolation increases stress and inflammation in the body. This can cause a vast array of health issues.
It Improves Your Immune System
People who remain social are less likely to get sick, research suggests. According to a 2015 study in Psychoneuroendocrinology, extroverts are less likely to catch a cold than introverts. The scientists found that extroversion created special genes that strengthened the immune system.
The National Institute of Aging adds that socializing reduces the number of interleukin-6. These markers may eventually develop into rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. Of course, researchers don’t recommend that you interact with sick people.
It Dials Down Stress
Hanging out with friends can noticeably affect stress. The scientific journal Child Development published a two-year-long study in 1992. According to researchers, children with support groups were more likely to perform well in school. Even when high schoolers had the same stressful workload, socializing helped them feel more capable.
Of course, relationships only assuage stress when they’re positive. A 2007 study confirmed that negative relationships worsen stress and even physical health. Although this seems intuitive, some people forget that stress creates inflammation that can deteriorate your health over time.
It Strengthens Your Heart, Metaphorically And Physically
Socializing throughout your life may improve your heart health. Scientists from the University of North Carolina discovered that social isolation increases the risk of hypertension, a pre-condition of heart disease. They also found that the age at which you socialize doesn’t matter. Adolescence, middle age, later years–all could put you at risk of hypertension if you’re socially isolated.
The European Journal of Preventative Cardiology reported a more direct correlation. Women who remain social have a lower risk of coronary heart disease, according to their study. Hence, interacting with others literally strengthens your heart.
Get Healthy Gut Bacteria After Socializing
Believe it or not, positive social life is associated with better gut health. Research in Science Advances noticed that friendly chimpanzees have a more varied microbiome. A microbiome is an ecosystem of bacteria, and when the intestines have a healthy variety of microbes, they are healthy.
Researchers believe that healthy gut bacteria transmit through socializing. Throughout evolution, this has helped people build immunity in groups, according to Gut Microbiota for Health. You don’t have to eat with others to get a healthy stomach–but you might as well!
Learn Better In A Group
Study groups have one advantage; people may learn better in a group than alone. Dr. Matthew Lieberman, a professor at UCLA, says that our “social brains” enhance memory and problem-solving. “When you’re socially motivated to learn, the social brain can do the learning, and it can do it better than the analytical network that you typically activate when you try to memorize,” he told Medical News Today.
In 2005, research in Linguistics and Education analyzed college study groups. Scientists found that conversations were an effective learning tool because students have to process what they’re learning.
Loneliness Heightens The Risk Of Diseases
Research has have linked loneliness to disease. In 2010, a scientific review examined 77 studies about socializing and health. They concluded that isolated people have a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, obesity, cancer. Isolation can even slow wound healing.
When people socialized, they develop healthier habits. Researchers in Texas pointed out that socializing with healthy people leads to a better diet, exercise routine, and sleep. Even people who struggle with substance abuse have healthier habits when they socialize more.
You Will Strengthen Your Memory
As we age, our memory dissolves. But socializing could preserve our memory throughout life. According to a 2015 study in Neurology, socially active people are 55% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. Even using a computer strengthened peoples’ memories.
Social integration, as the American Public Health Association calls it, is crucial for older adults. Older adults who remain socially active are less likely to develop dementia, explains a 2008 study. But even middle-aged adults can benefit from hanging out with friends and family.
Socializing Can Lower The Risk Of Dementia
Older adults who socialize have a significantly lower risk of Alzheimer’s. In 2019, scientists from University College London noted that social contact reduces people’s chances of dementia. Both young adults and older adults (over 60) have a lower risk while frequently interacting with others.
According to AARP, researchers can’t explain why social life impacts dementia. However, they know that the size of peoples’ social networks matters. One study in the American Journal of Public Health measured women with different friend groups. Women with a larger social group were 26% less likely to develop dementia than women with smaller communities.
Socialization Boosts Self-Esteem
The more people socialize, the more self-esteem they develop. According to research in Personality and Individual Differences, people with more social skills have greater self-confidence. People who don’t socialize as often feel less confident about themselves.
The American Psychological Association asserts that this is a two-way street. Socializing creates high self-esteem, which in turn promotes stronger relationships. For this to work, social relationships, support, and acceptance must be positive, explains the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Negative socializing could lower self-esteem.
You Become More Productive
Taking a break to talk to a friend can increase your productivity, scientists say. In 2008, researchers from MIT studied what they call “water cooler chatter.” When coworkers took a break to chat with another person, they became more productive when they returned to work.
Of course, this only works if you get along with your fellow students or coworkers. Research from Personnel Psychology noted that mood change matters. After socializing, people may feel happier, which improves their work. If you’re working with friends, don’t be afraid to take a break.
It Keeps Depression At Bay
Staying social alleviates symptoms of depression, even when people don’t want to be social. Research in The Journal of Counseling Psychology found that people with depressive symptoms felt better overall after socializing. Although depressed people were more likely to view social time as negative, they still felt better after a negative interaction.
In 2012, Dublin researchers found that a short chat with a friend greatly improved the moods of depression patients. According to lead author Dr. Ann Sheridan, participants had fewer symptoms because they felt more confident, reassured, and connected to their community.
Talk By Day, Sleep By Night
If you’ve ever felt wiped out after socializing, that’s science in effect. In 2011, researchers from the University of Chicago suggested that loneliness could cause restless sleep. Participants had to rank their loneliness on a scale, and every one point correlated with 8% less sleep.
During an animal study, socially active fruit flies slept more than isolated fruit flies. The bigger the swarm–up to 100 flies–the more the flies slept. But you don’t need to hang around 100 people to rest well. Everyone benefits from a different number of social groups, scientists say.
It Can Make You Happier
Social people feel much happier than isolated people because they develop a sense of belonging. According to the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, this sense of belonging comes from social support and a valued position in a group. As social creatures, we become happier around other people.
Even thinking about one’s social group could help people feel happier, says Juliet Wakefield, a researcher from Nottingham Trent University. She also emphasizes that group membership is not the same as a feeling of belonging. “You can be a member of a group with which you feel no connection at all,” Dr. Wakefield explains.
You’ll Be More Likely To Exercise
Even if you don’t join a gym or workout class, hanging around others may encourage more exercise. In 2017, Canadian researchers examined 20 longitudinal studies about social groups. According to them, groups of people are more likely to exercise and more likely to stick with a consistent workout routine.
When people feel pressured to exercise, researchers say, they are more likely to rebel against it. But taking a walk with friends doesn’t feel like coercion. For instance, social communities in Ikaria, Greece, get together and walk after dinner to destress.
Friendships Give You Higher-Life Satisfaction
Being socially active can make you more satisfied with life, especially in later years. Research in Psychology and Aging asked over 2,000 participants to rate their satisfaction later in life. Those with active social lives rated better satisfaction overall. Oddly, people with only family goals did not feel as happy.
Dr. Denis Gerstorf, who led the study, says that social goals help people feel more competent. Since socializing activates several parts of the brain, it’s also engaging. As for why family goals did not match that level, family life can be more stressful than friendships.
Social Skills Improve Exercise, And Vice-Versa
Exercise and social skills seem to build off of each other. For instance, a study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that exercise improves people’s social lives. Working out can support mental health, which in turn supports social health, especially during team sports.
The opposite is true, too. In 2017, BMC Geriatrics published a study about group exercising. Working out as a group provided more benefits than exercising alone. Socializing pushes people harder and helps them feel happier about their successes.