In 1624 English poet John Donne famously wrote, “No man is an island.” In recent years, neuroscientists have caught up with the wisdom of Donne, recognizing that our brains need more than simply the food we eat, the oxygen we breath, and the water we drink. There’s something else, something equally as important: it needs other people. Normal brain function depends on the social web around us. Our neurons require other people’s neurons to thrive and survive.
Brains have traditionally been studied in isolation, but that approach overlooks the fact that an enormous amount of brain circuitry has to do with other brains. We are deeply social creatures. From our families, friends, co-workers and business partners, our societies are built on layers of complex social interactions.
The benefits of social interactions
All this social glue is generated by specific circuitry in the brain: sprawling networks that monitor other people, communicate with them, feel their pain, judge their intentions and read their emotions. Social interaction doesn’t just boost our mood, it feeds our brains. We need it to keep that specific circuitry in the brain healthy and functioning.
In a California study published by the American Journal of Public Health, researchers reported that older women who managed large social networks reduced their risk of dementia by 26%. And women who had daily contact with their network cut their risk of dementia by almost half.
Brain healthy activities
Socialization is typically associated with healthy behaviors, like joining a walking group or a bowling league, or partaking in mentally stimulating activities, such as participating in a book club or playing bingo. When socializing involves activities such as these, the health benefits are increased substantially.
So if you’re looking for a reason to linger at your weekly coffee date with the girls, or take your grandkids to the park, here it is. Socializing isn’t just about having fun — it’s about keeping your brain healthy.