You’re at your favorite restaurant and you notice the glow of cell phones from the tables around you. Your fellow diners are staring at their phones rather than chatting with their dinner companion.
It’s a scene that’s happening more and more often, not just among younger people, but also older ones. As we become more digitally connected, many people are also becoming more socially isolated, making fewer friends and spending less time getting together with family and friends.
This lack of connection has a serious downside: it can affect your mental and physical health.
4 Health Effects of Staying Socially Connected
Making time for friends and family can have a positive impact on your health and wellbeing in a number of ways:
1. Friends Can Help You Lead a Healthier Life
Researchers have found that people who maintain connections with friends were healthier than people who reported being socially isolated. The study found that people who had weaker social ties had higher blood pressure, a higher body mass index and larger waist circumference, and higher levels of the C-reactive protein, a biomarker for inflammation.
Friends can also help you when you’re trying to stick to healthy habits like making healthier eating choices, losing weight, and exercising. And researchers have even found a link between social connections and a longer life. In one study, the effect of maintaining social ties was twice as strong as the effect of exercising on longevity.
2. Lower Risk of Dementia
Researchers in the Netherlands found a link between older people who reported feeling lonely and the risk of developing dementia. At the start of the three-year study, none of the participants had dementia. More than 13% of the people in the study who reported feeling lonely had developed dementia by the end of the study compared to 5.7% of the people who did not feel lonely.
3. Lower Stress Levels
Contrary to what a contentious Thanksgiving dinner with relatives may suggest, spending time with your family and friends can help lower stress. When you spend time with people you care about, you’re more likely to talk about the things that are causing stress in your life rather than trying to cope by drinking alcohol or smoking.
4. Improved Heart Health
The stress that’s associated with social isolation can encourage inflammation and increase your risk of developing clogged arteries. When that stress is eased by the support of family and friends, the risk of inflammation and its impact on the health of your heart may decrease.
How to Keep Your Social Connections Strong
When you think about everything you need to do, your first instinct may be to put off spending time with family and friends, so you can check off the other things on your to-do list, but that’s not the wisest approach in the long run.
Try these tips to make sure you’re getting quality time in with the people you care about:
Invite a family member or friend to join you at the gym, or on a walk or run, once a week.
Put Down Your Phone
You may be surprised how much screen time you log each day. Set aside a screen-free hour every day and use the time to talk to a friend or family member and catch up on what’s going on in their lives.
Ask a loved one to volunteer with you in your community. Not only will you be helping others, you’ll get to spend more time together.