Spending Time with Friends Could Reduce Your Risk of Dementia—Here's Why
Hanging out with your best friends can lead to lots of laughs and great memories—which is why it may also boost your brain health as well, according to new research.
There's nothing like spending an afternoon catching up with a close friend. Whether you're heading outside to enjoy beautiful weather or lounging on the couch with a great cheese plate and a glass of wine, it feels good to hang out with friends—and that warm feeling of happiness may be doing more for your health than you realize. Researchers have shared data suggesting that friendships and other relationships can bolster your happiness overall, but a new study indicates that social activity may also be the key to keeping your brain sharp in more ways than one.
The study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine this week, found that social contact can ward off forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, using data generated by more than 10,000 people. Researchers asked participants how often they had social contact with friends and relatives on six different occasions between 1985 and 2013; these people also completed cognitive testing beginning in 1997, and researchers checked their personal medical records through 2017 to see if they were ever diagnosed with dementia. Those who were 60 years old and saw friends daily were 12 percent less likely to develop dementia later in life than people who saw friends on a monthly basis. The study found similar results even for those older than 60 years old, even though the benefits were most significant for this particular age group.
The team behind the study, based at University College London, found that cognitive skills are often flexed the most when we are spending time with friends. "People who are socially engaged are exercising cognitive skills such as memory and language, which may help them to develop cognitive reserve… [it] could help people cope better with the effects of age and delay any symptoms of dementia," Gill Livingston, M.D., a senior author of the study, said in a press release. "Spending more time with friends could also be good for mental well-being, and may correlate with being physically active, both of which can also reduce the risk of developing dementia."
Previous research has found that a balanced diet could promote increased brain health into senior age; certain superfoods, like mushrooms, have also been found to stimulate cognitive functions, including memory retention skills, as you age. Keeping active is also a great way to supercharge mental health in addition to your diet, as any form of daily movement has been shown to reduce your risk of dementia, giving you another opportunity to keep up with friends while working on your health, too.