Human beings are social animals. All the progress we have made has been thanks to social relations: culture, civilizations, knowledge generation… But also, relationships are a basic need at a much lower level.
Our personality is forged in the bosom of social relationships and are a means to satisfy personal goals. They are a source from which to nourish our basic needs. We need physical contact, intimacy and belonging to the group. That gives us enormous security and reassures us.
Social support is one of the greatest protective factors that exist for all kinds of alterations. In contrast, the lack of relationships or social isolation are closely related to psychological disorders and discomfort. Thus, social relationships are so essential to our development and beneficial to our brain. So beneficial that they can delay or minimize the appearance of cognitive deterioration. How? Coming up next, we tell you.
Our brain is plastic. It has the ability to modify itself to function better and to adapt to new circumstances. For example, to brain damage. Closely related to neuroplasticity, we find the concept of cognitive reserve.
Cognitive reserve is the ability of the brain to tolerate or delay the appearance of pathological symptoms due to age or some pathology, such as Alzheimer’s. That is, to a greater cognitive reserve, later or in a more gradual way these symptoms will appear.
Customs, how to perform activities or stimulating occupations, master two or more languages, acquire new knowledge, play sports and take advantage of free time help keep our brain active. Thus, all these activities have been shown to improve our cognitive reserve capacity.
Having social interactions and maintaining an active network of friends has been linked to numerous health factors. Among the people with greater social activity, a lower index of depression, frequency of diseases, better immune function or lower risk of heart attack has been observed.
Apparently, how people relate socially can be a form of intellectual enrichment. In addition, having a rich social life also gives us cognitive challenges through conversation with others. For example, having to attend to what the interlocutor tells us and remember relevant information.
In addition, relating also makes us to enter into conflict with other people, improving our ability to solve problems. Likewise, making plans, establishing common goals or anticipating reactions from others gives us the possibility of improving executive functions.
“Good friends are good for your health.”
Protecting the brain
On the one hand, it has been argued that social relations contribute to the increase of the cognitive reserve. This mechanism has been proven by several studies. For example, Bennet and his colleagues found that the size of the social network modulated the association between Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive performance. That is, it was found that even with Alzheimer’s, people with more contacts showed less deterioration.
On the other hand, social relations provide other benefits that can indirectly protect our brain. Stress is a lethal weapon for our body and our brain. Thus, relationships comfort us, give us new points of view, offer us emotional support and the possibility of making plans. In this way, they are a huge source of resources to cope with stress. Who has not felt better after an afternoon with friends?
Likewise, the quantity and quality of social relationships is related to a lower level of depression. In turn, depression has also been associated with poorer cognitive performance and risk of dementia.
In addition to all the above, relationships also help us maintain a more active and healthy lifestyle. According to a study, when we interact with others, we tend to adapt to social norms and to get involved in healthier activities. As is understandable, a healthy lifestyle is also beneficial for our brain and our cognitive abilities.