5 health benefits of having a social circle — and how to grow one
By nature, human beings are social. We need to be connected to others to thrive — and survive, literally.1
That’s why it may be good to be part of a support system that includes family, friends and other members of the community, such as neighbors. “It gives you a sense of belonging and a feeling of purpose,” says Seema Bonney, M.D., founder and medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia.
There are other benefits too, Dr. Bonney explains. “Having a role in your community and strengthening your community helps give more meaning to life, which can help you feel more secure and grounded when times are tough.”
What does this social network look like? It’s the relationships people have with others that make them feel valued and cared for. It’s having people to lean on emotionally when you need to talk. Or it’s having people to help out, such as when a person needs a ride to the grocery store because their car is in the shop.1
Having these types of relationships may even help people live longer. People with stronger social bonds have a 50% increased likelihood of survival, compared with those with fewer social connections.1 And it doesn’t require a huge network to reap the benefits. Just a handful of neighbors or fellow members of a house of worship will do it.2
Here are 5 ways that having a social network helps keep people healthier — and how to become even more connected.
1. A social network helps lower stress
Everybody gets stressed. But the stronger a person’s social support network, the more resilient they’re likely to be during hard times.2
Having emotionally supportive people around helps self-esteem increase2 — and helps people feel more capable. A social circle may also help people talk through their problems or offer help, no matter the situation.2
2. A social network helps reduce the risk of disease
A low level of social interaction is like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day — bad for your health.4 Studies show that people who are socially isolated and lonely have a higher chance of having high blood pressure and heart disease.3
One reason a social network may help lower disease risk?1 Less stress in someone’s life, thanks to stronger social bonds. Another? Better quality sleep and feelings of well-being.1
3. A social network helps boosts healthy habits
People with social connections tend to have healthier habits, such as eating more fruits and vegetables and being more physically active.5 With emotionally supportive friends and family members, people are more likely to value themselves as much as their community values them.1
4. A social network helps improve mental health
Overall, people with stronger bonds in their community have a lower risk of mental health issues.1 “When you lack connections to others and don’t feel supported, this can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression,” Dr. Bonney says.
Socially connected people may be happier too. Having happy people close by can boost your own feelings of happiness.4
5. A social network helps sharpen the brain
People with a strong support system are at less risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Studies show that being socially isolated can increase the risk of dementia by about 50%.6 Having conversations and being socially active can help keep the brain stimulated.3
How to grow social connections
For those who want to grow their social group, it’s not too late to connect with others. Even having just a few people you can count on can go a long way.
Here are some ways to build up a group:
- Take classes or join clubs. Rekindle an old hobby or learn a new one, recommends Dr. Bonney. That way, everyone there is already joined by at least one thing: a shared interest.
- Connect every day. Find time during the day to reach out to a couple of friends or family members. Call, email or text. When there’s time, get together in person. Or video chat if visiting in person isn’t an option.3
- Volunteer. Giving back to the community or volunteering may be a good way to meet new people. The volunteering itself also builds a sense of community.
- Check the library. Look to the local library for activities and programs.3 They may even offer group walks or hikes where people can meet and get moving together. That’s a win-win.
- Try group fitness. Join a gym or sign up for a group fitness class. Some Medicare Advantage health plans offer a fitness program at no additional cost. That’s another place to meet like-minded people and get exercise. Or do a stress-busting activity such as yoga or tai chi.
Feeling shy? Sometimes you have to put yourself out there and trust people, notes Dr. Bonney. For people who feel particularly anxious in social situations, a therapist can help.2
In the end, it’s worth it to make the effort to grow your social support system — and stay connected. It’s another way to help take care of your health.