Prioritizing Time With Friends Could Lower Dementia Risk By 12%, Finds Study

Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor By Stephanie Eckelkamp
Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition.

Image by Jayme Burrows / Stocksy

Next time a friend asks if you want to go to an early morning yoga class or hit up that happy hour after work, but you're really tempted to make up some excuse (and get into those sweatpants), consider what this quality bonding time might actually do for your health. 

We've known for a while that maintaining strong social relationships is associated with a more positive mood and outlook. Social connectedness is also one of the main characteristics of people living in the Blue Zones—the areas in the world where people have been shown to live the longest, healthiest lives. And now, a new study of over 10,000 participants published in PLOS Medicine suggests that increased social contact can do wonders for your brain, potentially warding off forms of dementia such as Alzheimer's.  

Participants were asked on six different occasions (between 1985 and 2013) how often they had social contact with friends and relatives. These same people also completed cognitive testing from 1997 onward, and researchers had access to their health records through 2017, to see if they were ever diagnosed with dementia. 

The results: People who saw friends almost daily at age 60 were 12% less likely to develop dementia later in life than people who saw only one or two friends every few months. And even though the results were most significant for this age group, experts say social interaction at any age may have a similar impact. All the more reason to start fostering those connections now!

But why exactly is spending quality time with friends so beneficial for brain health? The researchers had a few theories. "People who are socially engaged are exercising cognitive skills such as memory and language, which may help them to develop cognitive reserve—while it may not stop their brains from changing, cognitive reserve could help people cope better with the effects of age and delay any symptoms of dementia," said senior author Gill Livingston, M.D., in a news release. "Spending more time with friends could also be good for mental well-being and may correlate with being physically active, which can also reduce the risk of...dementia."

Another factor is that spending quality social time with others has also been associated with lower levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) in the body. IL-6 is a pro-inflammatory cytokine that has been implicated in a number of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer's, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer.

Of course, if you're worried about declining memory, hanging out with friends and family isn't your only line of defense. Another recent study has found that getting to a healthy weight by age 60 may help preserve gray matter in your brain and slash your risk of Alzheimer's.

Other healthy brain-boosting habits: prioritizing daily movement (yoga has actually been associated with increased gray matter), increasing your intake of omega-3s from fatty fish like salmon, getting in plenty of fiber and nutrients from an array of colorful produce, scaling back on sugar and refined carbs, and prioritizing sleep.

Now stop reading this and go plan a friend date!

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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