7 ways strong social connections are good for your health

Excerpt: Maintaining, expanding, or deepening social connections in your daily life can help to prevent or ease depression and anxiety, protect your heart, and strengthen your immune system. Studies show that strong social ties and support also boost brain health and may reduce the risk of dementia, lower the risk of physical disability, and are associated with greater longevity.

To help make your 2022 be the best it can be, focus on maintaining, expanding, or deepening social connections in your daily life. That’s especially important after celebrating with family and friends during the holiday season to help avoid an emotional letdown or social isolation.

Older Canadians who felt lonely were five times more likely to show signs of depression during the COVID-19 pandemic,* reported a McMaster University study. Social connection was identified as the strongest protective factor against depression, among over 100 modifiable factors,* according to a recent study in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

Here are some other important ways social connections provide positive, protective health benefits for seniors:

  1. Lower stress and protect your heart. Studies show strong social relationships help to reduce stress and the risks of heart disease,* according to the National Institutes of Health and Harvard University.

  2. Social support bolsters brain health. Having someone whom you can count on to listen when you need to talk is associated with greater cognitive resilience and brain health, * reported a 2021 Journal of the American Medical Association study. Older adults who had good listeners readily available were cognitively sharper than peers who lacked supportive listeners.

  3. Strengthen immunity. Strong social connections boost the immune system, helping you to recover from disease faster,* according to Stanford University. People with strong social support systems were less likely to develop a cold after exposure to a common cold virus,* reported a Carnegie Mellon University study.

  4. Ease anxiety and depression. Connecting with others can lower anxiety and depression,* as well as reducing blood pressure and heart rate,* advises the Canadian Mental Health Association.

  5. Reduce the risk of dementia. Brain imaging revealed older adults who reported higher levels of social engagement had more grey matter volume in brain regions relevant in dementia,* reported a Journal of Gerontology study. Gray matter is involved in processing information and is reduced in people with dementia.* Frequent social contact improves cognitive reserve and may lower dementia risk,* according to a PLOS Medicine study.

  6. Lower disability risk and increase longevity. Older adults with a high level of social activity had a 43% lower risk of physical disability* than those who were less social,*reported a Journal of Gerontology study. Many studies also indicate strong social ties are linked to longer life.*

  7. Meaningful conversations promote health and happiness. A 2021 University of Chicago study found that engaging in deep and meaningful conversations with strangers leads to stronger social connections, and greater health and happiness.* When people went beyond small talk with strangers, they found others were interested in learning about their deeper thoughts and feelings, and they enjoyed the experience more than shallow conversations.

For older adults whose social networks often get smaller, one big advantage of moving into or living in a retirement home is the opportunity to easily meet new friends and build meaningful relationships.