Tuesday, November 3, 2009

You’re Less Likely to Get Sick If You Actively Socialize

Isn’t that an oxymoron? More sociable people are more exposed to germs, after all. Yet a study by Sheldon Cohen and his colleagues published in Psychological Science (2003) showed that less sociable people caught colds more often than those who socialized. While that doesn’t follow the straight logic of exposure, it sheds light on the concept of mind-body dualism and the link between physical and mental health. People who socialize have a social identity, possibly multiple social identities, which seems to make them more resilient.

“Belonging to social groups and networks appears to be an important predictor of health—just as important as diet and exercise,” says a September/October 2009 article in Scientific American Mind by Jetten et.al. Socializing makes us healthier and more resilient. A 2005 study by Bernadette Boden-Albala at Columbia University found that socially isolated patients were twice as likely to have another stroke within five years as were those with meaningful social relationships. In fact, being cut off from others put people at far greater risk of another stroke than traditional factors like having coronary artery disease or being physically inactive, said the report.

Karen Ertel and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health, who tracked a large group of elderly Americans over six years, found “significantly less memory loss in those who were more socially integrated and active.” (American Journal of Public Health).

Does virtual socializing (e.g., social networking through Facebook, MySpace, blogging and chat-lines) contribute to better health like the examples above? That’s what researchers are still asking and some speculate that social networking provides a good socializing venue, particularly for those of us who are less mobile or otherwise more isolated from loved ones and close friends (through travel, for instance). But, researchers also suggest that this venue does not provide a totally satisfying substitute for face-to-face real-world engagement. It comes down to a healthy balance based on circumstance. Now more than ever, we have options for meeting new people, joining groups of like-minds (whether virtual or real) where we can safely be challenged and excited by life, associations that provide us with fulfilling activities and good mental health. I am an active blogger and online communicator (I travel a lot and find online chatting a wonderful way to keep in touch with family, friends and colleagues). I have also formed many associations through this venue, several of whom I have since met face-to-face and forged close friendships with.

That is, in the final analysis, the point: good mental health. You create your reality. Now, go socialize!

Photo 1: I think this was some kind of cat-tormenting gang of the suburbs...
Photo 2: socializing at Times Square in New York City
Photo 3: The Witches of SF Canada

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Socialising and making friends is good on any level, be it on Facebook or face to face. The mind and body will always be better that way.

Nina Munteanu said...

Yes, I think so, Jean-Luc... We were built that way...

Unknown said...

Oh yes...I have no doubt that there is a connection between the mind and the body. As a counsellor, we look for clues in the body to indicate the health of our client's minds (thoughts) & heart (feelings), and we look for changes in the body to indicate a shift in our client's thinking & feeling. One of the first things I do is assess what kind of relationships clients have with family and friends and ask them who they feel safe with and can connect to outside of the counselling session - have them understand that they are not alone. If you feel unsupported, you carry a heavy burden and that is bound to get you down and make you sick. My suggestion...to avoid the flu this season, go out and enjoy your family and friend's company, take a hard fast look at your schedule and ask for help if you realize you've taken on too much. Connect with others and learn to collaborate! Find friends to play with and work with and stay healthy!

Nina Munteanu said...

Great points, Margaret! And great advice too... I will apply it to my situation too, as I travel across North America... in fact heading to the bar right now! LOL!